PARIS: Telecoms firms are looking to OpenStack as a platform for virtualising key network functions, enabling them to cut infrastructure costs and speed new services to market, although work still needs to be done to fully adapt it for this industry segment.
Speaking during a panel session at the OpenStack Summit, executives from several key telecoms firms detailed how they are using the platform, and what they expect to use it for in the future.
Toby Ford, associate vice president for cloud and platform architecture at AT&T, said that network function virtualisation (NFV) is a key area of interest for his firm, precisely because of the potential benefits.
"At one level, it's about being more efficient, enabling us to run multiple workloads and use our assets as much as possible," he said.
"Telecoms is typically very siloed, and we are interested in trying to run them on the same infrastructure, which also helps us to move faster and extend out quickly."
NFV involves implementing key network functions such as routers and firewalls as software-based appliances, rather than as very expensive fixed function hardware.
The hope among telecoms firms is that as software, the network functions can be deployed across racks of commodity x86 systems in a similar way to virtual server instances.
However, other panellists warned that telecoms has very specific requirements around quality of service which mean that response times must be guaranteed and that OpenStack does not yet meet these standards.
"Telcos like Orange host and manage a huge variety of different applications, and many of these telecoms applications support real-time communications, so real-time performance is important," said Xiaolong Kong, research and development team leader at Orange Labs.
Marcus Brunner, head of standardisation in the strategy and innovation department at Swisscom, agreed, asking: "What's the guarantee that the platform is able to give to applications, and when something doesn't go well who will be responsible?"
However, even Brunner said that Swisscom expected to use OpenStack for NFV in the future, but that "we don't feel comfortable enough to do that yet", and that the firm will leave virtualising the core network to the early adopters.
In contrast, Ford said that AT&T is "actively pushing things that work quite well", such as the Vyatta virtual appliances produced by network firm Brocade.
"Key things that need to change are the performance of x86 boxes, especially in the number of packets handled per second, and better integration with Open vSwitch. These things are essential as we try to scale, to get away from dedicated hardware," Ford explained.
Other things that the panel identified as desirable for OpenStack to become better suited for NFV purposes included native tools to manage the data centre hardware at the bare metal level, and full integration testing, especially for software updates.
"We have a lot of sites, and we need help so we can upgrade and get rolling upgrades happening," said Ford.
"We anticipate using OpenStack in a lot of sites, and we need to get lifecycle management so we can deploy and update over time."
At the same event Cern detailed how it is using OpenStack technology to help it manage the huge amounts of data its experiements are generating.
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