How IT comes to the rescue of telecoms

The convergence between information technology (IT) and telecom has been talked and written about for ages. Sometimes it seems just as difficult to bridge the gap between these different worlds as it is to make business and IT talk to each other.

Yet at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, it became apparent that current evolutions in the telecommunication space can only be realized by making new advances in IT too. For one thing, the much discussed 5G is impossible without Network Function Virtualization (NFV).

The Mobile World Congress is the place where most of the announcements revolve around fancy smartphones or new offerings by communication services providers (CSPs), 5G for instance. However, it’s no surprise that a lot of the attention also went to emerging domains such as the Internet of Things (IoT), edge computing and NFV. As the telecom industry evolves, it becomes more closely intertwined with IT. Proven technologies from IT will help telcos attain their goals.

Combining agile with robustness

Telecom operators are not to be envied, these days. On the one hand, competition is making prices spiral down, while customers (both consumers and enterprises) are demanding new apps and new services that are not so easy to deliver. And on the other hand, paradigm shifts like IoT are testing the limits of broadband. 5G will be essential to pump the enormous volume of data that 80 billion devices (according to IDC’s latest estimates) will be pumping through data connections by 2025. 162 zettabytes is not something you want to start clogging your networks with. The task of telcos is daunting: combining business agility and speed with the characteristics that we have come to expect from mission-critical apps: robustness, uncompromised performance and security compliance.

And that’s where IT and the principles of cloud computing come in, spearheaded by NFV. NFV is all about applying the datacenter paradigm in the network department, and about using the fundamentals of Software Defined Networking (SDN) in future service networks. Between them, SDN and Virtualized Network Functions shape a virtual environment so that not all data traffic needs to go over the same core. By dynamically adapting the network to changing circumstances, the service level can be guaranteed to users. If 5G is to be successful in managing large volumes of data, Software Defined and NFV are the key ingredients.

How about halving your TCO? In a recent report “Creating agility and efficiency at scale: the economic advantages of open architecture platforms in NFV deployments”, ACG research makes the case for Network Function Virtualization: “Adopting NFV brings the promise of eliminating rigidity in operations based on legacy, purpose-built platforms that are too slow to evolve and too costly to run. Moving to more elastic, software-driven, openly architected and economically designed platforms will be key in their transformation.” The report validates the value of an open, disaggregated and best-of-breed solution that a Tier 1 Operator recently built on Dell EMC equipment. The report compared this open solution – named Open Architecture Platform (OAP) to a tightly bundled platform (TBP) of a single-vendor system and found:

  • Up to 3 times better in service agility for new service enablement at 65% lower cost;
  • Up to 43% and 53% lower OPEX and CAPEX respectively leading to 47% lower overall TCO

What the report proved is that service innovation and business agility can be achieved alongside profitability provided CSPs modernize their IT infrastructure. And embrace an open platform strategy.

Building bridges

NFV is a focus domain for both Dell EMC and VMware, where we closely collaborate with a number of service providers. As part of the Dell EMC Partner program, the Dell EMC Service Provider Solution Engineering Practice offers a wide range of tested and validated systems for various service provider use cases. First focus there is delivering OAP NFV solutions for CSPs. Talking about virtualization means VMware had a foot in the door too, and NFV is high on the agenda of the new joint innovation center in Grenoble, France that VMWare and system integrator Atos announced at the Mobile World Congress.

The role of systems integrators like Atos in bringing NFV to telecom operators cannot be overestimated. They are best placed to build a bridge between IT and telecom, as they have experience in serving both industries. Their know-how in delivering cloud-grade systems where agility goes hand in hand with systems management and orchestration is invaluable to CSPs and will be the foundation of the future operators’ network platforms.

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