Nokia Networks’ AirFrame telco cloud launch takes an edgey approach to differentiation

How different is Nokia's telco cloud launch - with its emphasis on distributed architectures, hardware acceleration and bottom-up telco-grade security?

Nokia’s entry into datacentre infrastructure (RELEASE LINK)  was tailed by its head of networks, Marc Rouanne, as bringing about the end of the divide between telco and IT infrastructure.

The launch of its AirFrame portfolio – switches, storage and servers based on Intel architecture, but optimised for telco applications – meant that Nokia had bridged the divide between IT and telco, Rouanne said, to a webcast audience on Monday 1 June.

Of course, Nokia, like other vendors, may not want to see a complete breakdown of the divide between telco and IT datacentre infrastructure, otherwise telcos would all go and put their core networks on something like AWS, plus place a bit of edge network stuff on lowest price COTS hardware and let nature take its course. That would still leaves NEPs the massive software,apps and orchestration opportunity, so perhaps not a terminal scenario, even if a very unlikely one. But it seems like the NEPs are not ready to hand over the hardware space in its entirety just yet. All of them have made some sort of telco cloud datacentre announcement either in the first half of 2015, or earlier.

No – NEPs must still have a role to play in making IT that is also telco-centric – or at least optimised at the hardware level for certain telco-specific use cases. So that means Nokia has to position this launch as bringing the best of IT – open source, open APIs, open stacks – and also the best of what makes something telco grade – security, reliability, performance.

So – although its products are built on Intel’s X86 architecture Nokia has added plenty of its own non-secret (it’s all open, remember?) sauce in there: mainly some dedicated accelerators designed to move key workloads such as radio processing and IPSec off the main CPU.


The key claim, made in reply to a question posed by TMN on Nokia’s webcast, is that specialised accelerators will make Nokia’s AirFrame work better than other datacentre products -especially when it comes to radio and mobile broadband applications, according to Henri Tervonen, VP MBB infrastructure.

Nokia also said it has also designed-in security at the hardware and hypervisor layers, giving a telco-grade security to datacentre-based apps such as VNFs.

The company also said that its commitment to openness marked it out from competition such as Ericsson’s Cloud System and Huawei’s Distributed Cloud Datacentre solution. On the face of it this is not easy to stand up, given those companies (especially Huawei) have paid great attention to open source programmes, including promising compliance to Open NFV, just as Nokia does for Airframe. Ericsson’s launch of its Hyperscale RSA-based server product at MWC15 also explicitly referenced its commitment to OpenNFV within its Cloud Architecture.

Open, despite Nokia’s insistence, should not be a differentiator, unless you can accurately identify and delineate different levels of openness. Perhaps there’s some digging to do here.


One of the standout claims of Nokia’s launch was that it would enable converged management and control of centralised and distributed data centres. At the extreme this includes the very-much-at-the-edge vision of Mobile Edge Computing (MEC).

In this sense its possible to view AirFrame as a migration for Nokia from the edge cloud to the centre and then back again – on a single platform. Of course there’s a lot more to AirFrame than the software and hardware that Nokia first integrated as part of its Liquid Radio Applications Cloud Server. The AirFrame launch includes a server, switch, storage and rack portfolio – manufactured by an un-named “partner” Nokia said. But with a common platfrom across centralised and distributed datacentres, Nokia was keen to point out that edge-based processing of certain workloads is going to be vital as 5G use cases emerge. That it happens to coincide with its MEC strategy is not an accident. See this graph that shows the pooled vBBUs in place as part of this distributed datacentre architecture.

Nokia Networks AirFrame Cloud MEC 5G

Anyway, the key point here is that this cloud launch, with its focus on distributed and centralised cloud deploymentss, also fits neatly with Nokia’s MEC commitment. And then further, you cannot really get 5G without the edge cloud hosting certain processes and apps.

So, the question is, does this launch put Nokia in a different place from competitors from telco-land who are aso targetting the telco-specific datacentre opportunity? More delving to be done here as well…