Rakuten goes down Rocky road for Linux OS

Ditches Red Hat as it takes up with new Linux OS distribution for real time radio processing at the edge.

Rakuten Mobile is ditching Red Hat as the provider of its Linux based OS for the edge cloud that supports its mobile network, and instead is deploying Rocky Linux OS, from open source distributor CIQ.

Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony, says that the decision will cut the cost of that part of his network by 80%, and give him a real time kernel to support his edge-based DU deployments. Rakuten Symphony will also deploy the technology as part of its stack, which it offers to other operator customers, and Amin also wants to spread the distribution through the Rakuten Group.

Take your hat off

Amin decided to move away from Red Hat when that company’s business model changed following its acquisition by IBM.

“We had a big divergence on the business model…  [Red Hat] did not meet the cost and economics that I’m looking for.” He also said that with Red Hat announcing that they will no longer have the open source variant of CentOS anymore, “they are going into a subscription model, and that did not fit well with what Open RAN is all about.”

“It did not fit well with the concept and the idea that we wanted to disaggregate the hardware, we wanted to reduce the cost. I don’t want to charge my [Rakuten Symphony] customers unnecessary fees that I think they should get licence free.”

Amin said that the OS should be license free. “And if you need support from us or any of our partner companies, that’s an optional thing you could choose.” That’s the relationship that Rakuten Mobile has with RockyOS in Japan, one that costs Rakuten “substantially less than my current fees,” according to Amin.

There was also a technical driver. Amin says, “A true open source [solution] that supports real time workloads like radio was critical.”

Google “Who invented CentOS”

Amin said that he found CIQ following a late night Google search session. Previously, he has told the story of how he found his cloud automation provider Robin.io, via a late night Google search. Well, the search engine has again helped out, as Amin claims he literally Googled, “Who invented CentOS?” and Greg Kurtzer’s name came up. One LinkedIn exchange later things were in motion.

“I appreciated what he is trying to do to continue CentOS as an open source variant, and I said Rakuten as a group and Symphony is really, really interested in in this idea. So we partnered with him 13 months ago to work on the requirements for our realtime kernel, meeting the technical requirements for the radio workload, security and performance. It took us 13 months, it was not trivial. And we finally have put this into production in our system. But it started with the idea to drive a better cost efficiency for Open RAN systems.”

Amin says he is confident that RockyOS has the backing of the open source community. “It is clear to me that they resonated very well, whether you are in telecom or non telecom – the amount of downloads through this distribution is just significant. That gave me optimism that this is the right solution to invest the energy and effort on.”

Under the Robin.io hood

Amin explains that at the time of Rakuten Mobile’s launch, to run its VMs it was really a question of going with Red Hat OpenSwitch, with Cisco providing its wrapper around that.

“And as we got to learn a lot, we discovered that there is a better architecture to build this network and thus we acquired Robin.io. So Robin.io provides three primary products today: the cloud native platform, cloud native storage and orchestration. Robin provides an extremely cost-optimised solution, I mean, it’s significantly cost optimised compared to what I had to pay both Cisco and Red Hat. So the financial business case honestly took exactly five seconds, versus continuing into paying subscription fees for those tech companies. And and then we started moving all workloads from Red Hat and Cisco to Robin cloud.

“In the case of our partner in Germany [1&1 Drillisch], from Day Zero, 100% of that entire cloud is running into our own Robin cloud.”

Mention of Robin.io raises the knowledge that Amin tends to buy his suppliers, especially ones he has Googled in the night. But he says he has no plans to make an acquisition this time, saying it would defeat the whole open source approach. Rakuten has placed all its development to date upstream, and will continue to do so, he said.

To implement its real time kernel, Rakuten has implemented techniques and tools such as CPU pinning, SR-IOV, DPDK/PMD, link aggregation and source-based routing.

“The cool thing is we don’t own this. That’s the beauty of this. It is not owned by Symphony as a platform or a vendor. It is owned by a community: and this community is thriving. This is, in my opinion, what open source is all about – to get collaboration across the world, across partners and across different verticals. It was a no-brainer for me to jump on it, knowing that the gentleman that establish Rocky Linux is the same guy that founded CentOS.”

Going forward, then, RockyLinux will act as a key part of the Robin cloud that will drive both Rakuten’s own network and Rakuten Symphony’s offer.

“The way that we are going to market Robin cloud to the world is we think it is the most advanced edge cloud architecture across any private cloud deployment today. We believe they have a storage platform, the likes of none. Their orchestration system is extremely innovative: they do both service orchestration as well as bare metal orchestration. And when you look at the totality of savings, we think at a minimum the cost savings versus any product on the market today are 50%. When you look at the totality of this technology stack, whether it is the Linux OS, the cloud management platform, the storage, the orchestration, there’ll be a minimum 50% cheaper than what you would have to pay in the marketplace today.”