TIM plans allies in push for cloud native platforms

TIM CTIO Elisabetta Romano says vendors still not truly open, struggle with cloud native.

TIM CTIO Elisabetta Romano said that the operator called a halt to its NFV programme as it was not delivering the operational benefits it had expected. Romano said that the (mostly Ericsson-led) programme had been curtailed as it was not getting the operator to where it needed to be.

Speaking at a conference sessions at TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World conference, Romano said, “So we had 45 VNFs or whatever to get what? How much automation? Why do it if the life cycle is not automated. And by the way I now have three orchestration systems – Cisco, Netcracker you name it. So let’s stop and go all the way out cloud native.”

Later, picking up on the topic in an interview with TMN, Romano said that the NFV programme had some good things going for it – such as using general purpose hardware – but when it came to automation there was still too little and she felt TIM was “still too dependent on the vendors”.

“So if I have a packet core from Ericsson and I had IMS from another vendor these things are not talking together, I need to have a workflow for the life-cycle from another vendor. So then I said OK that’s not good and a way to overcome this issue and really get into automation was, for example, starting to work with a PaaS [Platform as a Service].

“So we started to work with OpenShift. And we realised that working on containers and using choreography from Kubernetes [rather than RedHat OpenStack distribution for its NFVi] was helping us quite a lot, because a lot of these headaches to get the automation tools from the different vendors were somehow solved when it comes to working with a platform like OpenShift.

“We said, ‘OK you know what, that means that this OpenStack virtualisation is not enough because we still have too many issues. And that that’s why we decided to move more into cloud native infrastructure: thinking about microservices, thinking about about shared services using this platform layer, with stateless functions. And we decided that’s the way to go forward to automate operations in a way that we thought we would have with virtualisation and we didn’t.”

we really need a movement among telco operators to decide what is a platform that we want to use in our telco cloud.

However, Romano said that even the decision to go all out for cloud native has not solved her issues in terms of vendor capabilities.

“When we started to dig more into this topic that everyone is talking about, when we went to dig with the vendors to understand cloud native, the vendors are not there. Even with cloud native there is a situation where every vendor comes with his own PaaS. So OK, Paas is the way but now every vendor is saying, ‘Yes I am cloud native but you need to run on top of my PaaS.’ And that’s not the way. So we really need a movement among telco operators to decide what is a platform that we want to use in our telco cloud.”

Romano said that she has spent time with Verizon and Rakuten recently to share and learn findings, and she has also sent a white paper that TIM has produced on its requirements for a “5G digital business platform” to 20 operators.

Co-operation is obviously needed, but she said that many open telco source-based initiatives, while worthy, have been too complicated.

“And that’s where I think it doesn’t fly. Because one of the issues with telco operators in the past has been to get into too complicated projects. For example there are initiatives like O-RAN that are good initiatives, but we really need us as telco operators to push very much to make things happen.”

She added that operator must push so hard because vendors tend to resist. She cited TIM’s experience with vRAN. “TIM was the first one to embrace this a couple of years back, at the time there Altiostar was an outsider, but if we were talking to incumbent vendors they were completely against it and thought we were crazy to do these things. Now of course everyone is a challenger moving in that direction.” TIM runs a vRAN instance in Torino with Ericsson, for example.

But the move to the Open RAN is also problematic.

“We have an issue with the vendors being aligned so that we can use general purpose hardware, because vRAN is a first step. Open RAN is the continuation where you really need to open up southbound and northbound interfaces because we want to expose capabilities in the radio, especially in the edge. So openness is key. As a telco we need to be open and collaborative but we need to have vendors that are open as well.”

More Romano…

Core plan
“The time schedule so far we have seen is that the vendors will come with a 5G core in 2020 but again we need to solve the point that they need to work on a platform that is not vendor specific but is more general purpose [read more on that here]. So we will launch our 5G Digital Business Platform at the beginning of 2020 and try to push the vendors to have the 5G core as soon as possible for our digital platform.”

TIM  has a dedicated team whose role is to find legacy technology or applications that serve little purpose and to shut them down. “You cannot transform 20 year old technology. We decided with all the things we have now we must go through a simplification and close down whatever can be closed down. So we are working on 3G switch off, but think about 700+ BSS/OSS systems – we have a plan to close down more than half of it. When you want to innovate this is quite boring.” But it must be done…