I just came back from the OpenStack Summit taking place in Atlanta this week. In my quest to understand better SDN, NFV and Cloud maturity for mobile networks and video delivery, it is an unavoidable step. As announced a couple of weeks ago, this is a new project for me and a new field of interest.
I will chronicle in this blog my progress (or lack thereof) and will use this tool to try and explain my understanding of the state of the technology and the market.
I am not a scientist and am somewhat slow to grasp new concepts, so you will undoubtedly find much to correct here. I appreciate your gentle comments as I progress.
So... where do we start? Maybe a couple of definitions.
What is (are) the cloud(s)? Clouds are environments where software resources can be virtualized and allocated dynamically to instantiate, grow and shut down services.
Public clouds are made available by corporations to consumers and businesses in a commercial fashion. They are usually designed to satisfy a single need (Storage, Computing, Database...).
The most successful examples can be Amazon Web Services, Google Drive, Apple iCloud, or DropBox. Pricing models are usually per hour rental of computing or database unit or per month rental of storage capacity. We will not address public clouds in this blog.
Private clouds are usually geo-dispersed capabilities federated and instantiated as one logical network capacity for a single company. We will focus here on the implementation of cloud technology in wireless networks. Typical use cases are simple data storage or development or testing sandbox.
Cloud technology relies on Openstack to abstract compute, storage and networking functions into logical elements and to manage heterogeneous virtualized environments. OpenStack is the Operating System of the cloud and it allows to instantiate Infrastructure or platform-as-a-service (respectively IAAS and PAAS).
The OpenStack program is also an open source community started by NASA and Rackspace, now independent and self governed. It essentially functions as a collaborative development community aimed at defining and releasing OpenStack software packages.
After attending presentations and briefings from Deutsche Telecom, Ericsson, Dell, RedHat, Juniper, Verizon, Intel… I have drawn some very preliminary thoughts I would like to share here:
OpenStack is in its 9th release (IceHouse) and wireless interest is glaringly lacking. It has been setup primarily as an enterprise initiative and while enterprise and telecoms IT share many needs, wireless regulations tend to be much more stringent. CALEA (law enforcement), Sarbanes Oxley (accounting, traceability) are but a few of the provisions that would preclude OpenStack to run today in a commercial telco private cloud.
As presented by Verizon, Deutsche Telekom and other telcos at the summit, the current state of OpenStack does not allow it to be deployed "out of the box" without development and operations teams to patch, adapt and stabilize the system for telco purposes. These patches and tweaks have a negative impact on performance, scalability and latency, because they have not been taken into account at the design phase. They are workarounds rather than fixes. Case studies were presented, ranging from CDN video caching in a wireless infrastructure to generic sandbox for storage and software testing. The results show the lack of maturity of the technology to enable telco-grade services.
There are many companies that are increasingly investing in OpenStack, still I feel that a separate or focused telco working group must be created in its midst if we want it to reach telco-grade applicability.
More importantly, and maybe concerning is my belief that the commercial implementation of the technology requires a corresponding change in organizational setup and behaviour. Migrating to cloud and OpenStack is traditionally associated with the supposed benefits of increasing service roll out, reducing time to market, capex and opex as specialized telco appliance "transcend" to the cloud and are virtualized on off-the-shelf hardware.
There is no free lunch out there. The technology is currently immature, but as it evolves, we start to see that all these abstraction layers are going to require some very specialized skills to deploy, operate and maintain. these skills are very rare right now. Witness HP, Canonical, Intel, Ericsson all advertising "we are hiring" on their booths and during their presentations / keynotes. I have the feeling that operators who want to implement these technologies in the future will simply not have the internal skill set or capacity to roll them out. The large Systems Integrators might end up being the only winners there, ultimately reaping the cost benefits of a virtualized networks, while selling network-as-a-service to their customers.
Network operators might end up trading one vendor lock-in for another, much more sticky if their services run on a third party cloud. (I don't believe, we can realistically talk about service migration from cloud to cloud and vendor to vendor when 2 hypervisors supposedly running standard interfaces can't really coexist today in the same service).