Deepak Narain: Deepak Narain: "There is a gulf between building an infrastructure and operating at scale. A service provider cannot make money if they cannot operate at scale; and operating at scale means automation.”

VMware has joined the OPEN-O project as a platinum member. Deepak Narain, regional presales manager, MENA, VMware on the potential of the project and of NFV technology for telcos.

CommsMEA: What is OPEN-O? And what’s the prime motive it aims to achieve?

OPEN-O is an open source project focused on building a carrier-grade framework to allow operators to create and manage any service in any network. Members of OPEN-O include carriers who represent over 1 billion consumers, in addition to leading and next-generation telecom solution vendors.

The second “O” in the name stands for “Orchestrator”. An orchestrator is just a very fancy way of saying a set of tools, that the operator will automate the process of, creating a service that an end user can use and will pay for.

Think about what happens in the background when you call up your service provider and ask for a new service from their catalogue. They will have to go, configure a handful of applications, update a number of databases, and configure a few physical systems. The orchestrator is the tool that the operator uses in the back end to make all of this happen seamlessly.

This is nothing new; service providers have been doing this for decades.  What makes it interesting is the introduction of a pair of new technologies namely software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV), both of which are evolving at breakneck speed. 

 Now, if you go back to any rapidly evolving technology, you’ll see that it takes time for interoperability to sink in. This is a group of carriers and vendors who are saying they don’t have time to wait since the opportunity costs are too high. They want to take the lead in creating tools for interoperability and they want to do it via open source to make sure their work benefits the community at large.

CommsMEA: How will OPEN-O prove beneficial for telecom operators?

The twin forces of software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) have been unleashed on the service provider industry. And, the architects have made their decision – this is how infrastructure will be built going forwards. The benefits are too great to be ignored.  

But, there is a gulf between building an infrastructure and operating at scale. A service provider cannot make money if it cannot operate at scale; and operating at scale means automation.

That is where the problem comes in; the tools of the trade simply are not evolving fast enough to keep pace with the core technologies. There are your NFV vendors pushing the technology one way, and your SDN vendors pushing it another. The vendors are pushing the envelope too far and too fast, and the operators are spending far too much time trying to make it all work together.   

The OPEN-O approach is focused on developing a modular framework that allows operators to pick and choose what they want, tailored to their legacy networks, business models or service demands.

CommsMEA:How will NFV pave the way for agile telecom models?

By freeing telecom providers from the need to buy dedicated, stand-alone hardware appliances for each function in the network, virtualised services on open-standard hardware stacks help lower costs, enhance flexibility and reduce time to market.

CommsMEA:What kind of interest has NFV and open standards piqued among the telcos in the MEA? What’s hindering or promoting their interest?

A handful of forward-looking carriers have built out their first NFV infrastructure and are rolling out services. The market has now progressed beyond the early adopters. The good news is that our inboxes are flowing with NFV-based RFPs.  The carriers here get it, they want to modernise, they want to offer new services and they want to learn from the good and bad experiences of their peers the world over.

What is holding back large scale deployments is the age-old question in the telco world – we can build it, but how can make money off it? How can we operate at scale without being beholden to a single vendor? Telcos have a fortune invested in tools to allow them to operate at scale, and what’s holding them back is the ability to graft these next generation services onto their existing  operational processes.