“Central offices, regional offices, distributed COs, base stations, stadiums – all of these locations are going to have compute and storage, becoming the virtual Edge. That’s where the servers will go, that footprint will go up significantly,” Joshipura said. “The real estate they [network operators] already have will start looking like data centers.”
Service providers like AT&T, SK Telecom, Verizon, China Unicom and NTT Communications are already supporting CORD. Ideologically aligned hardware designers of the Open Compute Project are also showing a lot of interest – OCP’s Telco Project, an effort to design a rack architecture that satisfies additional environmental and physical requirements of the telecommunications industry, actually predates CORD.
Despite their well-advertised benefits, OCP-compliant servers might never become truly popular among colocation customers – but they could offer a perfect fit for the scale and cost requirements of network operators.
Many of these technologies are waiting for the perfect use case that’s going to put them to the test – 5G, the fifth generation of wireless networks. When the mobile industry was switching from 3G to 4G, the open source telecommunications stack was still in its infancy, and Kubernetes simply didn’t exist. With 5G networks, we will complete the virtualization of mobile connectivity, and this time, the tools are ready.
According to Joshipura, 5G will be delivered using distributed networks of data centers, with massive facilities at the core and smaller sites at the edge. Resources will be pooled using cloud architectures – for example, while OpenStack has struggled in some markets, it has proven a massive hit with the telecoms crowd, and is expected to serve the industry well into the future.
“I would say 5G mandates open source automation, and here’s why: 5G has 100x more bandwidth, there will be 1,000x more devices – the scale is just astronomical. You just cannot provision services manually. That’s why ONAP is getting so much attention – because that’s your automation platform,” Joshipura told DCD.
Then there’s the question of cost: during her presentation at ONS, Angela Singhal Whiteford from Affirmed Networks estimated that open source tools can lower the OpEx of a 5G network by as much as 90 percent. She explained that all of this abundance of bandwidth will need to be ‘sliced’ – a single 5G network could have thousands of ‘slices,’ all configured differently and delivering different services, from enterprise connectivity to industrial IoT. The speed and ease of configuration are key to deploying this many network segments: right now, a new service takes 3 to 12 months to deploy. By completely virtualizing the network, new services can be deployed in minutes.
“By moving to open source technology, we have a standardized way of network monitoring and troubleshooting,” Whiteford said. “Think about the operational complexity of monitoring and troubleshooting hundreds and thousands of network slices – without a standardized way to do that, there’s no way you can profitably deliver those services.”
A network engineer, Nadeau adds this perspective: “I’ve long thought that the whole mobile thing was way over-complicated. If you look at the architecture, they have 12-14 moving parts to basically set up a wireless network. The good news is that you used to have to deploy 12 boxes to do those functions, and today you can deploy maybe two servers, and one box that does the radio control. That’s really one of the important parts of 5G – not only will there be higher frequencies and more bandwidth, but also the cost for the operator will go down.”
The Linux Foundation says its corporate members represent 65-70 percent of the world’s mobile subscribers. With this many projects at all levels of the networking stack, the organization looks well placed for an important role in the next evolutionary leap of the world’s networks.