Winning this award was a significant achievement for Quali. Telco decision makers attending the award diner at the Gemeentemuseumden Haag last week were also paying attention.
As new networking concepts such as SD-WAN and NFV are picking up steam, there is a growing awareness among Service Providers that building a standard approach to the consumption of development and test environment is key to sustainable certification and innovation. That means not only getting fully on board with Automation and DevOps from a process standpoint, but adopting Orchestration solutions that meet the very specific needs of the industry vertical.
Shifting Factors in the Telco industry are opening doors for accelerated innovation
Applying a DevOps approach in the Telco industry is relatively new. Up until recently the development cycle had traditionally followed a multi-month (or year) release pattern quite remote from webscale companies leading the way such as Netflix and Airbnb. Certainly a service provider has to deal with regulatory constraints in terms of uptime and the delivery of services. However the dynamics are changing. Several driving factors are at play:
Business mandate to sustain innovation: This is a matter of survival for telcos. keeping a competitive advantage when the boundaries of delivering network services are no longer solid.
Software Defined as a change agent: no just Software Defined Networking but in general the ability to commoditize the underlying infrastructure and overlay software based intelligence on top.
Automation takes center stage: now that software based technologies are prevalent, continuous updates through automation and orchestration can become reality for the network tester.
Making DevOps Automation a reality for Service Providers: not as simple as it seems
Making DevOps a reality for the network engineer and tester responsible for validation of new SD-WAN and NFV technologies is easier said than done.
To begin with, there is a mismatch expectation on skills: network engineers are not programmers (for the most part) so they need to be exposed to the proper level of resource abstraction for an effective implementation.
In addition, quite often, efforts to apply general compute based automation approach to industry specific challenges, such as NFV on boarding, have been stopped on their tracks. The complexity of software based network environments makes the translation non trivial. Instead of reaping the benefits and agility of software based approach, it merely compounds problems seen with physical based environments with additional challenges tied to virtual workloads . In the best cases, this leads to a successful (and well publicized) small scale pilot on a greenfield project, that never reaches full production at scale and expected ROI.
A Practical Approach to Network Orchestration
Taking a practical approach to network orchestration, Quali's CloudShell combines the power DevOps automation with the flexibility to provide on demand, dynamic environments to meet the inherent needs of service providers.
A network designer can create visual blueprints to model the various network infrastructure scenarios based on the TOSCA standard for certifying NFV/SD-WAN roll out.
These environments, or "cloud sandboxes" can then be deployed from a self service portal to virtual or physical resources and accessed by the tester through a web interface for a simple interactive experience, or through API using modern CI/CD tools such as Jenkins.
Out of the box orchestration takes care of workload deployment, configuration and connectivity setup. Similarly, automated resource reclamation provides control on cost and resource allocations to large teams of users.
Extensibility provides a way to customize the experience based on what is most relevant for the end user and sustain the automation in the long run: when it comes to technology, there only one constant: change.
I just happened to be in Paris last month at the creatively named MPLS+SDN+NFV world congress, where Quali shared a booth space with our partner Ixia. There was good energy on the show floor, may be accentuated by the display of "opinionated" cheese plates during snack time, and some decent red wine during happy hours. A telco technology savvy crowd was attending, coming from over 65 countries and eager to get acquainted with the cutting edge of the industry.
Among the many buzzwords you could hear in the main lobby of the conference, SD-WAN, NFV, VNF, Fog Computing, IoT seemed to raise to the top. Even though the official trade show is named the MPLS-SDN-NFV summit, we are really seeing SD-WAN as the unofficial challenger overtaking MPLS technology, and one of the main use case gaining traction for SDN. May be a new trade show label for next year? Also worth mentioning the introduction of production NFV services for several operators, mostly as vCPE (more on that later) and mobility. Overall, the Software Defined wave continues to roll forward as seemingly most network services may now be virtualized and deployed as light weight containers on low cost white box hardware. This trend has translated into a pace of innovation for the networking industry as a whole that was until recently confined to a few web scale cloud enterprises like Google and Facebook who designed their whole network from the ground up.
Technology is evolving fast but adoption is still slow
One notable challenge remains for most operators: technology is evolving fast but adoption still slow. Why?
Scalability concerns: performance is getting better and the elasticity of the cloud allows new workloads to be spinned up on demand but reproducing actual true production conditions in pre-production remains elusive.Flipping the switch can be scary, considering the migration from old well established technologies that have been in place for decades to new "unproven" solutions.
SLA: meeting the strict telco SLAs sets the bar on the architecture very high, although with software distributed workload and orchestration this should become easier than in the past .
Security : making sure the security requirements to address DDOS and other threats are met requires expert knowledge and crossing a lot of red tape.
Vendor solutions are siloed. This puts the burden on the Telco DevOps team to stitch the dots (or the service integrator)
Certification and validation of these new technologies is time consuming: on the bright side, standards brought up by the ETSI forum are maturing, including the MANO orchestration piece, covering Management and Orchestration. On the other hand, telco operators are still faced with a fragmented landscape of standard, as highlighted in a recent SDxcentral article .
Meeting expectations of Software Defined Services
Cloud Sandboxes can help organization address many of these challenges by adding the ability to rapidly design these complex environments, and dynamically set up and teardown these blueprints for each stage aligned to a specific test (scalability, performance, security, staging). This effectively results in accelerated time to release these new solutions to the market and brings back control and efficient use of valuable cloud capacity to the IT operator.
Voila! I'm sure you'd like to learn more. Turns out we have a webinar on April 26th 12pm PST (yes that's just around the corner) to cover in details how to accelerate the adoption of these new techs. Joining me will be a couple of marquee guest speakers: Jim Pfleger from Verizon will give his insider prospective on NFV trends and challenges, and Aaron Edwards from Cloudgenix will provide us an overview of SD-WAN. Come and join us.
Quali is the industry leader in delivering cloud-agnostic Environment as a Service (EaaS) solutions for development and testing, sales demo/POC, training, and cyber range teams. Global 500 OEMs, ISVs, financial services, retailers, and innovators everywhere rely on Quali’s award-winning CloudShell platform to create self-service, on-demand environments that cut cloud costs, optimize infrastructure utilization, and increase productivity.