Building the intelligent network at Mobile World Congress 2013: Part II

Part II of our series, Building the intelligent network, looks at how more companies from across the Mobile Network can help build intelligent network.

Part One of our series Building the Intelligent Network introduced the broad themes and topics that rose to the top at Mobile World Congress 2013.

In Part II we look at how companies from across the Mobile Network can help build intelligent network. There wasn’t going to be a Part III, but now there is, and that will come tomorrow. In that we will – finally – look at SON and optimisation, and innovation in the radio access space.

So here is Part II of our expanding series: Building the Intelligent Network. We look at how core network platforms are changing – how two new players are targeting the opportunity and one old timer is advocating radical change. We also look at how assurance and test companies are positioning themselves as crucial enablers of the intelligent network.

Core platform changes

Enter Dell
Franklin Flint, Global Telecommunications Strategy & Marketing Lead, OEM Solutions:
Last year at this show we launched NEBS-compliant Level-3 and ETSI-certified carrier grade servers that run on Intel Xeon processors. We also launched Blade products and recently launched a line of storage products.

Where we are different is we have a pricing model that’s based on equivalent margin, rather than charging a 300% uptick to get a NEBs version of a platform, when the real increased cost to you as a developer is 15%.

Our OEM customers include NEPs like Ericsson, NSN, Al-Lu, Samsung, ZTE, Huawei – we have account teams on all of those. In terms of who these guys have previously bought, it’s the standard guys: HP. Sun/Oracle, IBM, Kontron, Emerson Network Power, Advantech. The market is growing at a rate right now that we don’t need to do a lot of displacing, we can just grab market share.

A lot of the OSSBSS platforms have already been shifted to x86, but that’s an easy fit. We’re seeing some core functions in the mobile packet core starting to move to that direction with the development of new SDN tools and NFV that is going on. We are involved and have some IP in that space that we are developing. We see more and more things going in that direction and one thing we are hoping to ride is the virtualisation of a lot of the core functions, so we no longer have individual racks of gear doing individual functions, we centralise the whole thing, put it in one stack and then scale that stack based on the demand of that solution.

Currently because of our strength in hardware and sales support we have been focussing at the lowest layer of physical hardware. We do now own several software companies, like Quest and others, who have offerings that fit well into this market, things like security, ID management, and we will be moving to offer those more as we move forward. All this stuff we got primarily for IT, but a lot of things happened in IT ahead of the telco industry such as virtualisation, cloudifying. So we have IP in the OpenStack world and VMWare tools, people want to find out how difficult it is to take what we have learnt in the data centre and apply that to telco, how much change to traditional SLAs is necessary. We’re having a lot of those discussions.

One could argue that we did come in as disruptive. One customer said that buying NEBS compliant gear was a bit like buying gold plated equipment. But there’s not that much engineering involved: as it turns out it only costs 10-15% more to provide NEBS certification on the gear. So we are shipping to market and one competitor immediately responded with no extra charge for NEBS, rather than the previous 150-300% higher cost for running NEBs.

Oracle’s ONAP – an engineered, pre-integrated network platform
Venkat Eswara, Oracle: Traditionally in the telco market operators would procure, servers, storage, OS, and then integrate that vertically. We are providing the same formula except that it’s completely pre-integrated and pre-designed. The value of differentiation in this area is minimal, operators have to focus on apps and services. For them to focus at that level they need to find a way to transform their business, and they can only squeeze so much out of their existing operations. Its not sustainable to keep doing it. So that’s the rationale for the best of suite offering from ONAP.

Initially we started doing Exadata, Exalogic platforms, optimised for a given workload such as a database or middleware in the datacentre. Now we are taking that strategy and verticalising it throughout the industry, so ONAP’s first vertical solution is for the comms market: telco being a bit more complicated in terms of workload requirements, throughputs, latency, power consumptions, and availability aspects.

If you look at NFV the requirements that CSPs want the network function to have is what we bring in the ONAP. The timing is also interesting because we launched in the October timeframe, and NFV’s requirements do pretty much match what Oracle is doing in terms of bringing those capabilities into an engineered system for CPSs.

We are looking at opportunities where they have a new platform to plug into the network: anywhere where a pre-integrated box could be a benefit, which could be service deployment on an IMS core for VoLTE, IP messaging. That includes thinks like the entire EPC into 4G networks, IMS services, IMS apps, the entire data plane and control plane offerings in the network are all areas that ONAP fits in. VoLTE, MMTel, RCS types of services, all those are the right kind of use cases and workloads that ONAP could fit in. We’re looking into the packet core, signalling gateways, PDGs; all an ideal fit for bringing those capabilities onto ONAP.

If you look at the whole evolution of IP architecture, you have to find a way to consolidate your signalling , versus distributing the user plane to the edge. How do you enable that, because in all-IP the signalling traffic is not proportional to the user plane traffic, unlike in circuit switched. Because of that you dimension your network to centralise your signalling as one example and move user elements to the edge to provide throughput and latency. So those kinds of capabilities is where we are looking to. Signalling is one part, and is highly critical into providing these new services. When you want to architect that kind of a network, you must find a way to provide fewer nodes from point A to point B because that translates into latency. That’s how we look at ONAP, for example, as a fabric where you have the ability to scale the user plane and the control plane independent of each other, and at the same time consolidate onto the same platform.

NSN – Run your core network on Amazon!
Thorsten Robrecht, Head of Portfolio Management, Mobile Broadband, Nokia Siemens Networks:
On the core side we are continuously following our virtualisation strategy with our products, meaning we are leaning towards a software core. We’ve got all our core elements on the same hardware, commercial ATCA type of hardware. This has been shipping 18 months. From next year we will be shipping on COTS IT hardware, HP blade server, IBM blade serverrs and so on. So we are going away from ATCA telecoms hardware into pure IT hardware. And the next step, the one for the year after next is going totally into the virtual cloud, where you don’t need dedicated hardware any more. Just rent yourself some server space on Amazon, at the extreme, and run your core mobile network cloud there, which sounds strange and not everybody might want to do this but for an MVNO it might be interesting to rent space somewhere, just pay for what I’m using and let my mobile network run on this.

What does that mean for the ATCA type hardware providers, what do they need to do to adapt to that type of environment? (Shrugs and spreads hands) What to say? So in my opinion a part of this mobile infrastructure market gets into a commodity market. There’s nothing wrong with commodity don’t get me wrong, there are great commodity markets where you can build great businesses. We need to understand that this mobile infrastructure that we were all so proud of, so special technology, and so on, at least parts of this are going massively into commodity. This is good, it makes it cheaper, more powerful for everybody. We need to reinvent ourselves continuously. At a certain point, certain machines come to an end. By no means I am saying ATCA comes to an end, but am saying we need to transform, and this industry goes into virtualisation and into the cloud, and it starts in the core.

The new category of Telecoms Intelligence Provider is appropriate as it defines our ability to collect, analyse and interpret customer data

Assurance moves into actionable intelligence

Tektronix Communications
For operators looking to build the intelligent network, the ability to access and do something with data from across their network is critical. Tektronix Comms reversed its ice cream van into the Fira with the message that it was now all about being a TIP (Telecoms Intelligence Provider). The company had commissioned a report called 4D TIP, which referenced the four dimensions that Tektronix Comms is now addressing with packaged solutions. These are: Subscriber behaviour, Services, the Network environment, and the Technologies they use. Examples of a solution would be its Mobile Access solution, which is built on is GEOsoft RAN product and addresses the Network dimension. Another Network dimension solution is Diameter assurance – designed to monitor and manage the volume of Diameter signalling in the network.
The messaging from CEO Lyn Cantor was that Tektronix Comms has “evolved from an assurance and monitoring business, into a full service intelligence provider. The new category of Telecoms Intelligence Provider is appropriate as it defines our ability to collect, analyse and interpret customer data.”

The company is fresh from two acquisitions, that of Anue and of BreakingPoint. Anue is Ixia’s “beachhead” into the monitoring and optimisation space. At MWC Ixia announced its GTP Session Controller product, which is designed to give insight into LTE networks, by offloading GTP session correlation from monitoring tools while keeping GTP sessions together across multiple probes.

Interestingly, mirroring Tektronix Comms’ Diameter assurance solution – but this time in the test environment – Ixia announced IxLoad solution, a Diameter testing application that prototypes an LTE network in the Lab, and evaluates the signalling performance of devices and elements in the network.
IXIA CEO Victo Alston described his company’s technology as providing an access platform to the assurance systems already in place in a network – in which correlation of events is moved away from the tools.

“The way to think about it is that the network is growing at very high speeds, to 40, 100, 400Gbps over the next couple of years. However these tools are on PC architectures that basically scale at Moore’s Law, so there’s a fundamental gap and we bridge that gap, providing that load balancing to the probes. Carriers leverage us as a gateway into the monitoring system: figure out just the piece you want to provide for the probe and send it to the probe.

“We sell you the platform and you can use it for whatever you want: GPT, Diameter, video – you slice and dice and view the data in new ways, so in time you have more and more intelligent access to higher up in the stack. Buy the platform based on the amount of bandwidth that it can support and the feature set it can support, for the fact that in the future you will add probes and will need to be able to support that. That’s the value.”

“It gives you the ability to look at all the traffic going through the network and be able to figure out the needle in the haystack so you can find problems, and leverage the analytics to make predictions and change how you are operating,” Alston said.