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Data centers, white box hardware and the carrier push to become hyperscale

Posted by Hans Ashlock March 11, 2015
Data centers, white box hardware and the carrier push to become hyperscale

Competing with, or at the very least emulating the practices of, hyperscale organizations such as Facebook and Google has become a pressing challenge for telecoms in recent years. Whereas Web-scale giants are anomalous (sometimes referred to as "unicorns,") i.e., entities unburdened by legacy assets and capable of moving quickly as their markets evolve, service providers still have to make the transition from old to new infrastructure.

VoLTE, 5G and tomorrow's network infrastructure
The stakes are high for making this move as soon as possible. Voice-over-LTE service may have already reached 60 million subscribers by the end of last year. Moreover, the recent 5G white paper issued at Mobile World Congress 2015 by the Next Generation Mobile Networks group pushed for a network that would support hundreds of thousands of "simultaneous active connections per square kilometer."

SDN and NFV technology investments have understandably become priorities for carriers looking to develop and deploy new services and architectures. More specifically, virtualization and NFV orchestration is pivotal to lowering costs and facilitating the kind of fail fast practice needed to innovate at the pace of over the top (OTT) competitors.

To achieve that agility of service innovation requires automated approaches to development, testing, pre-production processes and beyond—taking service providers on a road to DevOps.  cloud management platforms such as QualiSystems CloudShell serve as technology enablers for the carrier DevOps transformation. It adeptly automates any type of infrastructure - legacy, physical, virtual or cloud - with its object-based architecture and allows for the creation of sustainable workflows for network engineers and non-programmers alike.  CloudShell in particularly is adapted for the rapid cycle usage patterns of developers and testers.

VoLTE and 5G are prompting a new approach to network infrastructure.VoLTE and 5G are prompting a new approach to network infrastructure.

Data center partnership underscores carriers' move to the cloud
Ericsson and Intel recently announced a partnership to help operators build data centers that would allow them to better compete with the aforementioned hyperscale organizations. The agreement, made between the world's leading supplier of networking equipment and its preeminent x86 chip maker, is a sign of the growing appetite for bespoke facilities like the ones used by Web-scale firms.

"There is [a] growing appetite for bespoke data centers and white boxes."

Finished commercial hardware and dedicated appliances haven't gone away by any means, but they have ceded ground to the white boxes and custom data center architectures that can support SDN and NFV. Recent initiatives such as the Open Network Operating System have highlighted the growing imperative of supporting white box hardware as a route to agility and DevOps.

"[Carriers] want to learn from how the major hyperscale players design and operate their infrastructure, but they also tend to require more help than the big hyperscale players need," observed IDC analyst Brad Casemore, according to Network World. "ONOS potentially helps them with the move to white box hardware and to more of a DevOps model operationally."

Still, making the moves to DevOps innovation and new approaches to networking is not easy, as legacy infrastructure is still out there en masse. A cloud management platform is integral to ensuring that different equipment can be feasibly managed as SDN and NFV filter-in over the course of years.

The takeaway: Carriers are trying to stay competitive with hyperscale organizations, which has driven them to take up white box hardware and bespoke data centers to support SDN, NFV and DevOps more generally. These efforts are likely to pick up steam as services such as VoLTE become more prominent and service providers increasingly commit to a 5G roadmap.

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