GSMA, ETSI, etc. have been defining standards for the telecom world for years. However outside of the telecom industry these standards have found little or no adoption. In a world where telecom operators are fast becoming bit pipes, do we really need telecom standards? Why can’t the telecom industry just use SIP, WebRTC, REST, etc. just like everybody else?
The current systems in telecom are assuming calls and SMS need to be billed for. What would happen if the starting point is: data insights, network apps and connectivity are the only things that are billed? Connectivity is likely going to be unlimited or with very high limits over time. New revenue would have to come from selling data insights, either individually with consent, or aggregated and anonymised. As well as from apps that run inside the network: on CPEs, DSLAMs, mobile base stations, etc. So for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on a world where calls and SMS can no longer be charged for and connectivity is close to unlimited for most normal use cases. To move bits fast through a network, you want the least number of protocol converters. So using many different standards would make things slow and expensive. Additionally telecom operators have overpaid for lots of standards and their software support during years without ever using them. Finally implementing a standard is very costly because often only 20% of the functionality is really used, but the other 80% needs to be there to pass compliance tests.
The nonstandard or empty networking appliance
In a world where software can define networks and any missing functionality is just a networking app away, it would be a lot better to start from an empty networking appliance, i.e. networking hardware without software, and then to buy everything you need. If you need a standard then you might want to buy the minimal/light, equals 20%, implementation and see if you can live with it. Chances are you still have too many functions that are not used. Facebook open sourced its top of the rack networking solution and surprise, surprise, the interface is Thrift based. Thrift is used in all the other Facebook services to have a standard high throughput interface for all its software services. Google probably uses protocol buffers. Apache Avro would be another alternative and the most openly licensed of them all. So instead of focusing on a standard, it would be better to standardise on a highly throughput optimised interface technology instead of public slow standards. Inside a telecom operator this would work very efficient and for those systems that talk to legacy or outside world systems, adding a standard is just a networking app away. This would simplify a telecom network substantially, saving enormous costs and accelerating speed of change because less code needs to be written and maintained making integrations easier. These are all ideas that assume there are actual appliances that are software defined. As soon as general purpose compute becomes fast enough for heavy data plane traffic then the reality will be software defined networking in a virtualized way with autoscaling and all the other cloud goodies. However this reality is still some years off, unfortunately. In the short run virtualization of the control plane and software defined networking appliances [SDNA] for the data plane, is the most realistic option…
Today’s networks are mainly based on hardware acceleration of a limited set of low-level routing rules. This was perfect in a well established world of a limited set of well known protocols traveling mainly from servers to clients. The new reality is that software has become elastic, data has grown big, Internet of Things clients are growing exponentially & are very chatty, streaming 4K video will be the norm, etc. Networks now need to become software defined if they want to survive this new reality.
Is SDN on top of private cloud the solution?
The answer is only partially. There are just too many data plane heavy use cases that still need hardware acceleration in the short term. Too many networking software is not ready for scale out and too many layers of hypervisors and other complex abstractions make current solutions too slow.
The solution is divide and conquer. Just like transactional database are still around after a wave of NoSQL, NewSQL, streaming analytics, graph databases, etc. So will next-generation networking need a mix of best in breed virtualized and appliance-based solutions to each problem.
Networking White Boxes or SDNA
Software defined networking appliances will be the first big innovation in 2015 to be adopted at scale. These boxes combine network acceleration with software-defined networking applications. In the beginning this will mean that standard networking ASICs can be reprogrammed in more dynamic ways. Good examples are the Facebook Wedge and Six Pack. This is however just the start. Expect multi-core processors that can handle many ports at the same time or new versions of ASICs and FPGAs that are more optimised for SDN logic.
Just like IT and Cloud got a big Devops boost through orchestration tooling, so will network orchestration tools allow for virtualized SDNs and physical SDNA to be orchestrated seamlessly. These will likely be additions to existing devop and orchestration tools instead of a new set of tools.
Software Define Radio
Instead of using cables and broadband solutions which are expensive to install, expect the next generation of software define radio to allow for end-devices to communicate with their peers and hubs a lot more freely, optimised and ad-hoc. This means that the next-generation of networking needs to take into account a reality of wired and wireless. Also expect protocols to evolve. With software defined radio it will be possible that new wireless standards emerge from small projects on Github that become overnight successes. Yaml, Json, Node.js, WebRTC, etc. were not born in a standardisation group. They became standards through usage. Expect the next generation of networking protocols to come from small super smart startups.
Networking Apps & App Stores
At the moment you buy an appliance that comes with an embedded operating system and a set of pre-installed networking logic. At most you can install plugins. The near future will see networking apps be sold via networking app stores on SDNA from a third-party. Expect new networking startups to become overnight successes because they no longer need to ship atoms worldwide, they just need to upload bits to an app store.
Reshuffling of the networking and telecom market
With software, operating system and hardware being separated, the old networking industry rules get rewritten. It used to be enough to be good at 2 or at least 1 out of three. Excellent hardware, an ok operating system and some good software was enough to be market leader. Now no longer. Best-in-class can be easily obtained in each category. The problem will be when revenue streams come from software maintenance but the supplier actually was only excellent in hardware. These suppliers will see their revenue disappear overnight when others start winning the networking software battle. Expect also the networking services business to change. If hardware, operating system and many networking apps substitute the single vendor approach then very likely IT system integrators will have a better shot at dominating the services market then traditional network vendors. Networking will have become more like IT. Even telecom networking. So IT system integrators have everything to win by accelerating this trend.
Expect many new technologies and business changes that will make new winners and old losers in the next 24 months. My money is on the network software innovators to come out winning…
Summary: Help companies with dinosaur IT systems survive the ice age of innovation. Become a Dinovator…
Before reading this blog post, you should have read: how the cheapest X86 became the smartest switch on MWC, how the cheapest X86 can solve the 4 biggest telecom industry problems and the telco innovator’s den.
If you thought that we were waiting by the phone to get calls from telecom CEOs for the telco innovator’s den then you don’t know us. From the start, we did not think they were going to call. However we were surprised that one of the top 10 telecom CEOs actually got our blog post, read it and considered calling. This is a clear signal that our base message: “The telecom sector needs to innovate or things will get messy” was spot on. There are three things that sell in this world: sex, gossip and controversy. If you want to deliver a message to a large audience that does not want to listen, pick at least one as your theme and build a guerrilla marketing campaign around it.
If you think that we are now organising the Bitpipe Accelerator Den, then you are also wrong. Yes we would be able to assist in supplanting inefficient telecoms with efficient Google Mobile and Fiber. However would that serve a lot of people? Do you really want lawyers to start calling you with offers to help you with your divorce because Google detected that your partner is looking into it but hasn’t told you yet? Do we really want to see large 300.000 employees companies reduced to 3000 because they are now bit pipes? Telecom downsizing is not pleasant. So please if you are working in the telecom industry, or in any industry that is the victim of disruptive innovations, then please keep on reading and become a Dinovator…
Dinovators are people that wake up one morning and find that the company in which they have been working for many years has been converted into an IT dinosaur. Not because the employees have been doing something wrong but because the outside world just went too fast and out innovated them. You now have two options: 1) Jump ship 2) Show dinosaurs how to innovate. If you are a Dinovator you prefer option two.
So how can you innovate in a traditionally minded company? You can go and show slides. You can go and tell everybody that the wolf is coming. However we tried those approaches years ago and you will fail. Majorities and laggards don’t want the status quo to change because they have a vested interest in it and they don’t know if they will have so in the new reality.
What works however is seeing magic with your own eyes. Anybody that has seen and touched the future can’t deny it any more. Now how can you show the future to people? First of all you need to understand their problems. If in the telecom industry the problem is revenue generation, then don’t go and show them a new proposal for a better protocol or faster network. Show them how new revenue can be generated, churn reduced, cost reduced, OTT revenue generated, etc.
So if you are technical then you can use the cheapest X86 server with 6 ports or any other device you can get your hands on and put an open source operating system like Snappy Ubuntu Core and you can create some Snappy Apps to show that there is a better future and can convert it into the smartest switch that solves the 4 biggest telecom industry problems. You can use the open source Juju charms and some cloud to show how complex telecom software can be abstracted and how for instance an open source SMSC can have a rest API with three parameters [to, from & message] and still deliver the same SMS service as that very expensive box that has all types of SMPP and other useless APIs and takes months to integrate with. If you are in financial services, retail, logistics, industrial, energy, etc. then you can probably find some other cheap box that can be Snappyfied or open source software that can be charmed so you can show your magic.
If you are not technical but have access to suppliers then you just ask them to surprise you with what they can come up with if they would apply disruptive innovations like Snappy and Juju. If you promise them that you will arrange a meeting with the boss of your boss if they surprise you, then they will be happy and surprise you for sure.
However to accelerate “dinovation” and to be inspired with what a community of dinovators can do, our proposal is to use Twitter. Just tweet a 1 minute video or a short blog post about your “dinovation” and include #dinovator and @telruptive. If you see tweets with great “dinovations” then you retweet them and share them with colleagues, customers, partners and bosses. This way you can become part of the the Dinovator Movement. The Dinovator Movement is not accepting that companies that have been around for many years are useless and need to be substituted. The Dinovator Movement is about showing that even in the most traditional companies there are Dinovators at work that show how that company needs to adapt to the new reality. The Dinovators explain to management that what is needed is Innovator’s Dens in which partners, customers, suppliers, etc. are invited to participate and innovation can be accelerated without RFPs and wasting everybody’s time. A Dinovator wants their company to embrace the new reality and thrive on it. Open Source has made becoming a Dinovator super easy. Nobody will put a critical system in production without paid support so even business people will be happy with open source Dinovations. However open source has a magical power, it does not get stopped by RFPs. So use its power. Have a Dinovator Day…
In lots of networking and telecom software companies you can find many great networking and telecom software that has been in production for 5 to 10 years. Normally this software is sold on top of an appliance that gets bought from another company or another department. The bad thing about this is that each software takes up a at least one unit in a data centre rack and when the box vendor declares end of life, the software vendor needs to phone its customers and bring the unhappy news.
Telecom operators have told the market that they want to see NFV. The market had interpreted NFV in two ways. Either we take a costly operating system like Windriver, we put a costly VMWare hypervisor on top, a costly RedHat and then we put our legacy networking software. The word costly is repeated many times on purpose. The visionaries have interpreted NFV as networking logic running on OpenStack. The visionaries are right that this is the way to go. However today’s product managers can’t take a magic wand and convert a legacy solution written to run on a box into a scale out cloud enabled solution. Data plane virtualization is still a skill that is more of an art than a science.
What if there would be a cheap (Snappy Ubuntu Core is open source), innovative alternative that will give your legacy networking stack another three to five years of life. Just enough for your R&D to master the art of data plane virtualization and get a next-generation product on the market. However the same solution will also give network board manufacturers a chance to make money on the software that runs on top of their silicon and as such they would be crazy to declare end of life on a box that makes the cashier ring every month. Finally if your company is lucky and your legacy solution runs on Ubuntu then you will get bare metal performance with NFV flexibility.
So how does this magic work. Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, released Snappy Ubuntu Core which is the smallest Ubuntu ever. It incorporates innovations from the Ubuntu Phone that allow software to be packaged like a mobile app, called Snappy App or Snap, and sold through a Snap Store. This Snap can either contain third-party executables directly or boot a KVM in which a third-party solution can be booted. Executables give your bare-metal speed, especially if network acceleration cards are present. KVM gives legacy solution an extended life and makes it run a lot faster than running Windriver+VMWare+RedHat. Both Snaps and KVMs can be assigned to one or multiple ports and technically network chaining solutions are possible.
So if you are responsible for a legacy networking or telecom software product, if you are a vendor of networking acceleration boards [although chances are high somebody in your organisation is already working with us] , or if you are a customer that still does not belief the slideware on data plane on OpenStack but needs to put multiple networking functions into one unit, then you should contact Canonical now because our open source solutions can solve your problems. If you don’t have this problem but do know somebody that does, why don’t you forward this blog post. If anything they might pay your drink next time you meet…
The 4 biggest telecom industry problems are:
1) lack of new revenue streams to offset call and sms falling revenues.
2) high churn because connectivity is a commodity
3) due to a data explosion without new revenue, costs of the network need to come down substantially
4) over the top players provoke the data explosion but generate no revenue
Before you can understand how these 4 problems can be solved, you first need to understand how Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) together with a limited group of brilliant partners converted the cheapest X86 with 6 ports into the smartest switch of Mobile World Congress 2015.
Now imagine that this smartest switch or its official name Software Defined Networking Appliance (SDNA) was not a switch but instead was a customer premise equipment (CPE) that a big telecom operator had installed in a small shop. The shop owner would have used the Telecom operator’s Snapp Store to buy the Balabit Firewall, F5 Linerate, a Microsoft solution, etc. Since The operator gets a revenue share from all the solutions and snaps that get sold on top of their CPE as does Technicolor who build it, all of a sudden Technicolor is willing to provide The operator with free CPEs and the operator converts a device that used to cost a lot of money into a big revenue generator. This is an example of how problems 1 and 3 get solved. Now since this shop owner also bought Devicehive and Kaa Snaps all of a sudden all his lights, heating, ip cameras and the display in the shop window are connected to his CPE. Thanks to a brilliant Kaa Twitter Snap, his shop has become a national social networking hit and press has been filming his shop window all day long. Do you really think this shop keeper would want to change his CPE if a competitor would offer him a €5 discount on broadband? Problem 2 just got solved.
Now imagine that Alcatel Lucent would create a SDNA based on a Cavium board and install it instead of the DSLAM and Amazon would come along and say that if they allowed them to put Snaps from some of their biggest video streaming and gaming customers they would pay Alcatel Lucent and the telecom operator 50% of the revenue. All of a sudden problem 4 is solved.
Thanks to some more ideas from Canonical, a whole bunch of other telecom solutions become free and revenue generators and Fairwaves, Dataart, Metaswitch, Forgerock, Telestax, Truphone Labs, Nymi, Nwave, Lime Microsystems, Chaos Prime and Cybervision all get bought for billions.
However this cheapest X86 is not only going to solve the four biggest telecom problems. It is also going to solve several other problems. It is going do to away with senseless telecom middle management that send 5000+ questions in RFPs, complete lack of innovative thinking and years to go from idea to production.
Our next idea is how to convert all the ideas in this blog in products that are in production in a test site before the end of the year, rolled out at large scale before the end of next year and the next time a telecom operator wants to buy innovation they can do a complete procurement activity in two hours.
Edited. See here for our next idea.
Two weeks before mobile world congress the Canonical offices received from Amazon one of the cheapest Intel servers with 6 Ethernet ports. It contains no hardware acceleration. Two weeks later employees from Ericsson, Cisco, Huawei, ZTE, HP Networking had to admit that they could not take us to see a smarter switch in the whole of MWC. This blog post is about what made this switch the smartest switch. The next blog post explains how this smart switch can solve the four biggest problems in the telecom industry (I.e. new revenue, churn reduction, cost reduction and OTT revenues).
So what made this switch so smart. First of all when we got it, it was an Intel server with an i5 processor and we had to go and buy 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD and put Ubuntu Core on it. The next thing our brilliant engineer Loic created was a Snapp App or Snap that made port 1 into WAN and the others into LAN. Now we actually had a switch. He and our equally brilliant head of R&D, Alex, also worked with F5 on a Snap that can boot up a KVM in which you run another operating system. This allowed us to put F5 Linerate in the switch. The end result is that we have the only Switch that very easily can support any exotic operating system to run on top. Via our Docker framework we could also run Docker based networking logic. However if you run the networking logic inside a Snap then this would give bare-metal performance with the flexibility of completely reconfiguring the switch by just deploying a different snap or adding multiple. If the engineers of the companies, that had to admit we had the smartest switch, want to win tomorrow then they just need to take a box with accelerated networking hardware and put a Snappy Framework that mediates between different Snaps that use network hardware acceleration. It would be the most flexible software defined networking appliance or SDNA out there. We also worked with the super engineers from Balabit that delivered a Firewall Snap in three days. So now we can assign Linerate to port 2 till 4 and Zorp to port 5 and 6. Making it a very flexible SDNA and Ubuntu Core the perfect NFV or SDNA operating system.
Zabbix already made one of our best written Juju Charms and they made a Snap of the Zabbix agent for ARM and Intel in no time. This means that our SDNA was now being monitored.
When telling the public that we called Microsoft to ask if they could write some software for our SNDA and open source it, everybody was surprised they said yes. The truth is that Microsoft is one of our best partners for quite some time now. Two days later we had a Snap that worked both on Intel and ARM and put a nice graph of the real-time load of our SDNA onto Azure. They even documented everything hence any programmer can connect Ubuntu Core to Azure super easy. Impressive work and thank you Microsoft because it made for a very surprising element in our story.
Even more surprising was the fact that we had ARM software running on Intel. Thanks to Forgerock and ARM we had an ARM mbed coap snap and mbed device server running in the cloud. Forgerock and ARM helped to put our SDNA inside a complete device management solution with identity and access management being seamlessly resolved.
However none of these solutions made us have the smartest switch of MWC. That was reserved to our amazing IoT partners Dataart and Cybervision. A simple €5 bluetooth low energy dongle integrated our switch with light and temperature sensors. Devicehive made our switch magically into a light controller. What was event more amazing was that via a Snap our switch became AllJoyn compliant and was the first switch to be able to talk to a television, dishwasher or fridge. The open source Devicehive will shortly be extended with Snaps for all possible IoT standards solving one of the biggest IoT problems for IoT developers instantly: interoperability. This will be the easiest way for any industrial gateway to become compliant with all types of standards. Also the cool open source IoT platform Kaa made our switch magical. Imagine how a shop can easily buy a Snap from a Snap Store that would be able to project Tweets onto a large LED display in the shop’s window. If only one Tweet every ten seconds would be randomly selected, it could start a new trend of Tweesplaying. The store that started it could potentially have millions of Tweets competing to be on the display and become an instant social network celebrity.
The last part was my most personal contribution. If you work with the most brilliant engineers you have to be able to ask intelligent questions. Nothing better than actually trying out the technology they just created. Thanks to a discount in Maplin, we were able to buy a robot arm for £35. Three hours later it was build. However there were no Linux drivers. I have been looking for an excuse to learn Golang and build something with Ajax. The end result is on github and you can now control the Maplin robot and make it do amazing demos via a Json script or some buttons.
All this would not have been possible without the contributions of all these amazing partners and colleagues, so thank you very much. So without any delay here is the smartest switch and the first software define network appliance, or SDNA. We hope somebody soon makes a smarter one because the hardware specs was embarrassingly low-end compared to what was available on the show.
See it move here.