This Industry Viewpoint was authored by Amy Fredj, Product Manager of Cloud Infrastructure Software at Nokia
The advent of the cloud has suddenly made technology available to the masses by offering an efficient and cost-effective way to access information. Consumers can now store data without needing to develop networks, purchase servers, fuss with storage devices, or worry about costs and complexities as their storage needs increase.
The devil, however, lies in the details. When a telco decides to build a private cloud, they are in fact worried about the infrastructure since they are the cloud owners – a stark contrast from the consumer who uses the public cloud.
Consumers on Cloud 9
Users of the public cloud can consume it in multiple ways: Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service and/or Software as a Service. When running an application, users do not concern themselves with the aspects of what type or how much infrastructure they will be consuming. A Virtual Machine (VM) can be launched on a public cloud, like Amazon Web Services, in just a few minutes. All the services are virtual, and the underlying physical infrastructure does not concern the end user. In fact, when the public cloud operator needs to scale to support additional users, capacity and/or performance, this is done transparently to the end users.
Moreover, the public cloud operator runs at tremendous economies of scale, due to the great number of users. Scaling out and scaling up are cost-effective exercises for the public cloud operator, allowing the hardware to pay for itself easily. Further, as the owner of their own infrastructure, the public cloud operator makes independent decisions about what commodity hardware is purchased, and defines strictly what can and cannot be used, with the valid working assumption that the end-user has no visibility to that hardware.
Simply put, as a user of the public cloud, I have no concern about the underlying hardware, but can assume that it will be handled by the owner of the cloud.
Cloud Providers’ Do the Heavy Lifting
In a telco environment, the owner of the cloud is the telco itself.
The decision to run telco operations on a private cloud was driven by the goal of efficiency and cost effectiveness, as a natural next step to the virtualization journey that started around a decade ago.
Aware of the need to lower costs, operators began their journey by virtualizing their environments, trialing multiple applications on the same hardware environment, and essentially using the virtual environment much as they would have the incumbent hardware. As they work towards a cloud environment, there will be an increase in sharing of infrastructure elements. One benefit of the cloudified environment is the elasticity provided in usage of the hardware resources.
However, even as telcos approach their goal of full cloudification, they are never completely divorced from the underlying infrastructure. ETSI defined clear guidelines on how a telco can deploy a cloud environment. The Network Function Virtual Interface (NFVI) and Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) are basic building blocks of the cloud, and tightly coupled to the physical infrastructure they are based on. The VNFs interface with these building blocks, and are shielded from the need to interact with the underlying infrastructure.
OpenStack is a generic platform that serves as the virtual infrastructure (VIM) of the cloud, and is a preferred implementation by the customers, who seek to avoid vendor lock-in by choosing a community-driven offering. However, telcos have requirements that go beyond this generic platform.
From the perspective of the VNFs (much as it is for the public cloud user) – scaling up (heavier usage of the system by VNFs) and scaling out (introduction of additional VNFs) is easily done. However, for the telco operator, there is an implicit requirement for the addition of hardware to serve these growing needs. The telco cloud owner will have to carefully consider the capacity and performance needs of each of the VNFs as he makes difficult dimensioning decisions. These operations should be fully automated and easy to execute, in order to avoid human error.
The cloud owner cares about how the infrastructure is behaving, and monitors it closely. Introducing complexities at the hardware level, (like mixed hardware types) immediately impacts the ability to run the cloud. The owner purchases both the underlying hardware and the cloud environment. In addition, extended monitoring support is implemented at all levels to reassure the operator that they neither under-buy nor over-purchase this hardware.
Finally, a prominent concern of all telcos (and customers) is the need for security of the infrastructure. This must be assured by vendors offering a cloud solution to telcos.
The arrival of cloud in the telco environment is certainly welcome, but for reasons that differ from those of the public cloud. By supplying a telco cloud, operators can provide elasticity, flexibility, mobility and versatility to the applications and VNFs running on the cloud, by separating them from considerations of hardware. If the virtual infrsatructure is designed, monitored and secured well, the VNF does not have issues, scaling up and down as needed, moving from one cloud to anotherto , run efficiently. In combination with the Network Function Virtual Orchestrator (NFVO) and the Virtual Network Function Manager (VNFM) , the telco operator is set to provide an infrastructre that delivers this solution, and is involved in decisions involving the underlying infrastructure on which the cloud will be built.
As the world moves towards a cloud native environment, telcos are still relying on a resilient infrastructure, such as OpenStack, with a clear evolution path to a fully cloud native network, via a mixed OpenStack-Cloud Native solution.
To sum up, if implemented, the telco cloud provides a means to do what has been done until now, but with substantial improvement and far less strain for providers.
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