Nokia’s Quarter Adds Another Data Point to the Case for Software Service Lifecycle Automation

Nokia reported a starkly negative quarter, citing slowing sales in wireless in particular as the reason.  OK, that’s true, but it should hardly have been a surprise to Nokia or anyone else in the network equipment business.  For half a decade, operators have been showing their version of the same slide, with revenue per bit dropping fast, cost per bit dropping a bit slower, and a crossover in the 2017 timeframe.  If that was your business description, would you be investing in the same sort of future?  If your buyer had that problem, would you be expecting the same kind of sales as you had in the past?  Get real.  And if this spending issue wasn’t a surprise, then dealing with it should have been a management priority.

Infrastructure has to earn a return or you slow-roll it.  Operators stopped seeing much return on the wireline side, so wireline capex has been in decline for five years or more.  Wireless was still OK, but now it looks like it will also start falling in 2017.  Is it a coincidence that’s the same year as our revenue/cost crossover?   Operators saw this coming, of course, and that’s why they were so interested in SDN and NFV.  Vendors, who realized that controlling cost meant controlling their revenue, were less interested.  Now perhaps they realize that costs were going to fall one way or the other.

Now we’re seeing the clear signals that nothing, not even wireless, is OK.  Return on infrastructure is declining too fast and operators are going to slow capital spending wherever they can.  The initiatives like SDN and NFV, if they’re effective at all, are probably going to help accelerate a decline in capex rather than help things, because we’ve been unable to frame a credible service agility (new revenue) or operations efficiency (lower opex) story so far.  Nokia and every major equipment vendor except Huawei are going to suffer for a couple years at least.  Unless they do something.

The only something they could do is to provide credible paths to service agility and operations efficiency, within SDN and NFV or exclusive of it.  Frankly, I think it’s time for us to separate the service agility and operations efficiency stories from SDN and NFV.  Yes, both technologies could contribute to these non-capex benefits, but my modeling has clearly shown from the first that we could take near-term steps in these two critical benefit areas without touching infrastructure at all.  We could do a top-down service transformation, either by creating a credible path to orchestrated OSS/BSS or by creating service orchestration below the OSS/BSS.

The most we could hope for in capex reduction would be about 4.75 cents per revenue dollar, achieved if we were to totally transform infrastructure.  It would take five years to complete this.  The most we could hope for if we did top-down service orchestration to optimize operations efficiency would be more than double that, and we could achieve it with less than 10% of the investment and in a quarter of the time.  We’d not need to change a single thing in the network itself.

The most important thing that NFV has taught us is that software automation of the service lifecycle is essential.  The sad thing is that NFV until very recently hasn’t worried much about the service lifecycle, only about the VNF lifecycle.  That ties the benefits to infrastructure change.  But if you recognize that a service is going to have to include a lot of legacy technology, then your orchestration processes will have to orchestrate these things too, or you’ll have a half-automated result.  So we can orchestrate an all-VNF service.  We can orchestrate a service that’s half VNF and half legacy if we have legacy interfaces to orchestration, right?  So we could orchestrate something that was only 10% VNFs, or zero percent.  Orchestration/automation, done right, fixes most of operations and agility for everything underneath.  So why not do that now?

Why not indeed?  One problem is that the NFV ISG made a very early decision to exclude operations from the scope of work.  They also decided to call “end to end” only “VNF to VNF” and exclude legacy elements.  Both decisions have largely been reversed, but the whole body of work to date has built on two critically wrong assumptions.

A second problem is that the first problem of operations exclusion largely excluded the operator CIOs who actually run the OSS/BSS.  Even if you now put operations into scope, can you wrestle NFV away from the standards people who have been focusing on virtual hosting of functions and address the comparatively pedestrian issue of OSS/BSS?  Try to get mainstream tech media to get excited about that!  No CIO engagement, no media support, no pressure for OSS/BSS change.

Then you have the TMF.  This body has done a lot of good work, but its response to operations transformation has been totally disappointing.  I did some work on a TMF initiative about eight years ago, and even made some presentations on how software objects that represented service elements could be controlled by a service-level orchestration process, and how these objects could then orchestrate the real elements they represented.  I called the thing that did the lifecycle management a “service factory” and the TMF activity adopted the term but never realized the vision behind it.  The current ZOOM project is aimed specifically at OSS/BSS modernization but it’s not progressed significantly in defining a realistic vision and framework since it started.

None of this can really help Nokia, though, nor does Nokia really need outside help.  They have a strong OSS/BSS position of their own.  They have, in Nuage, the best overall SDN strategy, one that could be added at little cost to any infrastructure to further magnify the benefits of service orchestration.  So why do they risk bad quarters?  Answer: To prevent worse ones and placate their merger partner Alcatel-Lucent.  I blogged before the Nokia-ALU deal that Alcatel-Lucent was underplaying Nuage to protect their router business.  Now Nokia is doing that, IMHO.

A combination of an overlay-SDN model and a modeling-and-orchestration approach to service lifecycle management could relieve pressure on operator spending quickly.  Perhaps it won’t protect Nokia’s inherited router business, but if operators don’t have an opex-driven solution to margin problems they’ll reduce capex, shift to Huawei, or both.  Ericsson had its issues, and now Nokia.  What does it take for vendors to understand they have to do something?  We don’t have many quarters left to apply the right solutions.

Reading Through Juniper’s Quarter to the NFV Opportunity

Juniper turned in a nice quarter, a quarter whose success was largely due to the cloud and its impact on switching and the data center.  Since Juniper is a small-ish player in the networking space, a successful focus on something emerging like the cloud could have a disproportionate impact on its numbers.  That could mean, of course, that there is an emerging cloud space, and that’s a worth focus for a discussion.

In order to do cloud computing you need a cloud (obviously), and that starts with one or more data centers.  In fact, as cloud computing advances toward broad success (if it does), we could expect its greatest impact to be the building of cloud data centers or the transformation of “ordinary” data centers to cloud-ready form.

A cloud data center is characterized by a dense server population (I hate to use the word “hyperconverged” but it’s out there) that’s connected by a high-capacity switching system.  The mandate for the switching is to create a “flat” architecture in a delay and packet loss sense, meaning that any server-to-server path has much the same characteristics.  The reason to demand this is that component connection in the cloud could impact performance of applications disproportionately because of the increase in inter-component traffic.  If you don’t have a flat connection architecture you’d have to limit your hosting assignment to systems that had a suitable connection, which makes the resource pool smaller and less efficient.

Juniper was, back in the old days, reluctant to even get into switching.  I can remember discussions I had with Juniper management pushing the notion (I had similar discussions on getting into optics) and there was little interest until about a decade ago.  Since then, though, Juniper has been pretty aggressive in framing a high-performance switching product set, including a really interesting fabric architecture called QFabric whose QFX products are among Juniper’s successes this quarter.

If QFabric was a technical success (and it was) it was a bit of a marketing whiff.  The cloud came along and provided the context for deployment, though, and there’s no question in my mind that Juniper’s switching for the cloud is among the strongest offerings available.  The question is how much of it will happen, and how Juniper would perhaps advance its own cause by leveraging it.

You can’t have cloud data centers or data center switching without the data centers.  The largest single opportunity for creating new data centers would be the telco cloud, which means NFV.  My model has shown that a global, optimum, deployment of the carrier cloud and NFV would add about a hundred thousand new data centers.  That would mean a huge jump in the total addressable market for QFX, of course, and something Juniper should have been all over from the first.

They got a bad start with NFV, though.  The “Microsoft crowd”, led by CEO Kevin Johnson, didn’t even understand the difference between SDN and NFV and created no useful NFV position during the early critical time of the ETSI NFV ISG’s work.  Their current position on NFV is muddy; they seem to have a higher regard for the “virtual CPE edge-hosting” model than for the cloud-hosted model even though it’s the latter that would promote the carrier cloud and Juniper’s switching portfolio.

No aspiring switching kingpin should ever dream of compromising the carrier cloud value proposition to sell a few edge appliances or router boards.  In fact, what they should be doing is talking about ways to promote the expansion of the cloud data center paradigm and technology outward from the data center to create broader success.

Edge NFV is a competitive throw-away.  If you’re hosting functions in CPE or router boards, it’s difficult for the architecture to create any competitive advantage for you because operators would demand multiple sources and the sales are onesy-twosy in nature.  If you’re building a cloud data center, once you get a win there it’s hard for you not to get the follow-on sales.  It might also be easy for you to then attack things like data center interconnect (DCI) and even extend your story out to the network edge.

Juniper’s notion of the “Cloud-Enabled Branch” could be a good one, but the collateral for the concept is weak and it’s not directed at the logical evolution of the model’s consumer.  You can’t cloud-enable a branch without a cloud, and without cloud services and applications.  You have to make a very strong place for yourself as the foundation of a cloud network, and the collateral doesn’t do that.  They do have a nice white paper on the topic of network automation that is better at promoting the Cloud-Enabled Branch than the specific collateral is, but when I asked for the Cloud-Enabled Branch material, they didn’t provide it.  The material they did provide talks about a lot of Juniper products, but not QFX.

There’s still time to get this right, though.  Juniper’s competitors don’t do much better in positioning their products.  Probably the issue for both Juniper and the competition is the desire to buff up the current quarter rather than try to promote a long-term evolution.  That’s kind of like treating the symptoms and not the disease; your sales world is an endless cycle of tactical engagements.  However, it can still work if nobody gets it right, at least for the enterprise.

I think that for every vendor in the cloud space, including and maybe especially Juniper, the carrier cloud is really the issue.  The data center has, for over a decade, been the focus of setting networking policy.  Vendors who won minds and hearts there won overall.  If you want to target the data center, do you target the 14,000 enterprises who have cloud-scale opportunity, or a dozen operators whose collective data center opportunity could be ten times what the combined enterprise total would be?

So that’s what Juniper’s quarter says Juniper should be doing.  Also, of course, what Juniper competitors should be doing, including Arista, who analysts on the Juniper earnings call felt was Juniper’s big competitor.  Here again, Juniper may have an edge because Arista is a bit more partner-focused, which makes it harder for them to target the telco space, and other competitors (notably Cisco) are busy defending against NFV rather than supporting it.

Of course, Juniper has had opportunities before and muffed them, and so have their competitors.  A lot of this is a matter of revenue prioritizing in age when only the current quarter counts to the Street, and a lot to a technical culture that all tech companies have.  It’s going to be a matter of who overcomes obstacles first, and whether the opportunity will wait for anyone.

It’s Time We Got Serious About the IoT Model

No matter how stupid a notion is, it’s never too stupid to be hyped.  The corollary point is that proof, even successive waves of further proof, of a notion’s stupidity won’t drive the hype away.  We’re seeing proof of that with the recent DDoS attack, launched from what would be called IoT.  You all know I’ve been saying our “everything-directly-on-the-Internet” vision of IoT is dumb.  Well, guess what?

There is no question that smart devices are exploding.  Nearly everything can be made to communicate these days.  There’s also no question that if we could gather the collective information from our smart devices, and perhaps “public smart devices” we could enrich the information context in which we operate.  This enrichment could lead to mobile applications that can sense what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to go, and to better integration in the movement of goods in the real world.

The question, then, isn’t whether networking smart devices could be world-shifting, but whether the “Internet” of Things is the right approach.  It’s possible that because we think of the Internet as the soul of our social world, we automatically think of it as the thing-network.  It’s possible that VCs and OTT players would love to see somebody like the telcos fund a vast deployment of sensors that they could exploit, like it was Internet connectivity.  Anything is possible, except for the impossible, and that’s what we’re finding out.

There’s always been three fundamental issues with IoT.  The first is cost; you have to have a revenue flow to all those who have to spend to make it happen, and that flow has to represent a reasonable return on their investment.  Issue number two is privacy; you have to be sure that you don’t compromise privacy or even safety by giving people access to information they shouldn’t have, or could misuse perhaps by combining it with other information.  Issue number three is security; you have to be sure that the “things” on IoT cannot be hacked or spoofed.

It should be clear that there’s a natural tension between the first of these points and the other two.  The more protection against misuse you build into something, the more expensive you make it.  Add this to the fact that something that’s directly connected to the Internet has to support a more complicated network paradigm than something on a local control protocol like ZigBee, and you quickly realize that you’ll either have to limit opportunity by building a robust “thing” or limit privacy/security.  That’s what has happened here.

If we expect a “thing” to have the same kind of in-device security and privacy protection as a smartphone or computer, then we’re asking for something a lot more expensive than the market would likely bear, at least for broad adoption.  If we want mass-market cheapness, then we’d have to deal with security and privacy a different way.  The most logical one is to use an intermediary element as a gateway or proxy, representing the device on the Internet.  If that’s done, then the “thing” itself could be invisible on the Internet and online interaction with it could be mediated by something that’s used once per installation, covering potentially a lot of our “things”.  It would thus present a lower total cost of ownership.

In my view, all our three issues argue strongly against the notion of direct Internet connection of “things”, but that doesn’t mean that adopting my proxy model solves all the problems.  Obviously, you have to secure the proxy, and in two directions.  Most effective, accepted, home-control systems today (which are not Internet-based but may offer a proxy connection) have both a device-registration function to keep unwanted devices off the network, and a proxy-protection function to keep the home control network secure.

Accepted device-registration strategies will often include either a specific discovery approach that’s separate from functional acceptance, or an explicit registration process that requires you physically manipulate the device in some way to make it receptive.  Often both are included, and if the process is well-designed then it’s unlikely that unwanted “things” will invade you.

Even that’s not the full story.  One of the knotty problems with IoT is how you’d update the software/firmware to avoid having your “things” turn into bricks because of some logic problem.  An update path that goes directly from a vendor website to a “thing” presents a major risk, even if updates have to be explicitly authorized.  By spoofing the vendor website, it would be possible to introduce a malware-infected update into the “thing”.

Malware in the “things” is most risky where WiFi is used by the “thing”, even if it’s only to contact its proxy.  If the “thing” has an IP address on the home/business LAN then it could contact the outside, including to generate a DNS query.  If the “thing” has no IP address then it can’t send anything beyond its network without going through the proxy, which can be more heavily defended.

Another caveat, though.  I used to give technical seminars, and on one of my slides I had the advice “There’s No Substitute for Knowing What You’re Doing.”  IoT security, even in a proxy framework where the “things” have no IP address, can still be contaminated by people who fail to take the most basic precautions.  The classic example is not changing the default password on something or not changing their own passwords.

The password point is particularly relevant given that at least some of the IoT bots involved in the latest DDoS attack were from a single vendor who says that the big problem is customer password practices.  We still have servers today that are vulnerable because somebody forgot to delete a default account, an old account, or used a simple, static, obvious password.  This where IT professionals are involved.  In the consumer space, there’s little hope of getting people to do the right thing.

That raises the question of whether, in a “thing-connected” world, we don’t need a better form of protection.  Retinal scans, fingerprints, and other physical-linked authentication steps are overall more secure because they don’t rely on good behavior on the part of the device owners.  Unless we like DDoS attacks, it might be wise to think about requiring stuff like this for IoT deployments before we get too far to have a hope of catching up with the issues.

IoT is a great notion if it’s done right, and we now have clear evidence that it’s potentially a disaster if it’s done wrong.

What Tech Companies and Tech Alliances Tell Us About Tech’s Future

In the last couple weeks, we’ve heard from three tech companies who could define how IT is done.  Ericsson represents the service-centric view of transformation, though in the network space.  HPE represents the agile side of the IT incumbent picture, and IBM the entrenched (some would say, ossified) side.  It’s worth looking at the picture they paint as a group, and in particular in light of recent news that Berkshire Partners was buying MSP Masergy and that AT&T was partnering with both IBM’s SoftLayer and Amazon’s AWS.

If you look at the recent discourse from all of these companies, and in fact from most players in the cloud, IT, and networking space, you’d see a story that’s strong on the notion of professional services.  This is due in no small part to the fact that buyers of technology generally feel they’re less equipped to make decisions, and to implement them, than ever before.

In 1982, when we started to survey enterprises, about 89% of IT spending was controlled by organizations who relied on internal skills for their planning and deployment.  Nearly all (98%) of this group said that they were prepared for the demands of their IT evolution, and their top source of information was the experience of a trusted peer followed by key trade press publications.  Vendor influence was third, and third-party professional services were fourth.

In 2016, the numbers were very different.  This year only 61% of IT spending is controlled by companies who rely on their own staff, and of that group only 66% said they were prepared for the tasks before them.  Their top information resource was still the experience of a trusted peer, but the media had dropped to fourth, with second now being vendors and third being third-party services.

You can see from this picture that enterprises seem to be depending on others much more, which should be a boon to professional services and those who offer them.  In fact, professional services revenues in IT are up about 18% over the last decade.  Why, then, would Ericsson seem to be missing on its services bet?  Yes, part of it is that the network operators are less committed to professional services than enterprises, but is that all?

No.  The big factor is that technology consumers are generally less likely to want professional services from third parties.  They are happy to pay vendors for them, or to contract for software development or integration from a software company, but much less likely to consume anything from a third party.  The desire for an impartial player is strong, but stronger yet is the feeling that your service vendor will be better for you if they’re also a primary provider of hardware or software.

IBM and HPE are both primary providers of hardware and software, and they both have big expectations for professional services, but the industry-average growth rate per year would hardly send chills up the spine of the CFO or the Street.  What the enterprise surveys I’ve done show is that the movement of vendors from number three in influence to number two is driven by a change in the nature of IT spending.

IT spending has always included two components—one the budget to sustain current operations and the other the budget to fund projects to transform some of that operations.  The transformation can in theory be cost- or benefit-driven.  For the period from 1982 to 2004, the spending was balanced between these two almost equally—certainly never more than a 10% shift.  In 2005, though, we saw two changes.  First, sustaining-budget spending grew to account for about 64% of total spending and gradually increased from there to 69% in 2015.  Second, the target of the “project spending”, which until 2002 had been largely improved productivity, shifted that year to controlling costs.  “I want to do what I do now, but cheaper,” was the mantra.

It’s only logical that if that much focus is on just doing what you do today at lower cost, your need for professional services is subordinate to your need for cheaper components, and you probably favor the idea of vendors making their own analysis of your situation and recommending an alternative in the form of a bid.

The same logic drives users to adopt virtualization technology to reduce hardware costs, to look to automate their own design and application deployment processes, and to transfer to the cloud any work that’s not efficiently run in-house.  In some cases, where internal IT is expensive or seen as unresponsive, that could mean almost everything.  Since server/hardware spending is a big target, this creates systemic headwinds for all the IT players who sell it, including both HPE and IBM.

The challenge for businesses who embark on this kind of transformation, as opposed to simply looking for cheaper gear and software, is the lack of strong internal skills to support the process itself.  All forms of virtualization are likely to succeed, based on my survey data, to the extent to which they are no-brainers to adopt.  That can be because they’re a high-level service, or because the service provider/vendor does the heavy lifting.  Which is why “the cloud” is problematic as an opportunity source, in its current form.

What users want is essentially SaaS, or at least something evolved well away from bare-metal-like IaaS.  HPE’s approach to fulfilling that need seems to be focused on enabling partners to develop wide-ranging cloud solutions that would then be deployed on HPE hardware.  IBM seems to want to control the software architecture for hybrid clouds, by extending them out from the data centers they already control.  Both these approaches have risks that have already impacted vendors’ success.

HPE’s problem is the classic problem of partner-driven approaches, which is getting your partners to line up with your own business needs.  That’s particularly challenging if you look at the enterprise space as a vast pool of diffuse application demand.  What do you need to focus on?  Traditionally, the senior partner in these tech partnerships is driving the strategy through marketing, but HPE doesn’t have inspiring positioning for its strategic offerings.  They need to, because you recall that buyers are looking more to vendors for this now.

IBM’s problem is that the cloud isn’t really dominated by IT stakeholders, but by line stakeholders.  Those people aren’t part of IBM’s account team call-on list, and IBM doesn’t market effectively anymore so it can’t reach cloud influencers that way either.  Yet again, we see a company who is not reacting efficiently to a major shift in buyer behavior.  Not only that, IBM has to establish a relationship with stakeholders and company sizes it doesn’t cover with an account team.  They need marketing more than anyone.

How does this relate to Masergy?  Well, what is an MSP anyway?  It’s a kind of retail-value-add communications service provider who acquires some or all of the basic low-level bit-pushing service from a set of third parties, and adds in management features and functional enhancements that make the service consumable by the enterprise at a lower net cost.  Like SaaS, which can save more because it does more, managed network services can save users in areas related to the basic connection service, enough to be profitable for the seller and cheaper for the buyer overall.

What better way to deal with the declining technical confidence of buyers?  Masergy isn’t boiling the ocean, service-target-wise.  They find one service, appealing to one class of buyer (enterprises) and typically consumed in a quantity large enough to be interesting on an ARPU basis.  They then address, in framing that one service, the very internal technical skill challenges that make strategic advances in tech hard for the buyer.  That’s an approach that makes sense, at least to the point where you’ve penetrated your total addressable market.  Enterprises don’t grow on trees.

The AT&T/Amazon-and-IBM deal could be more interesting, if more challenging.  One similarity with Masergy is obvious; the market target is largely the same.  Yes, you can have SMBs on either IBM’s cloud or Amazon’s, but the real value of the deal to both the cloud guys and to AT&T is to leverage the enterprise customer, who already consumes a lot of AT&T network services and who could consume a lot of cloud too.  AT&T could even add security and other features using NFV technology.   In many respects, these deals would add another higher-layer service set, not unlike the MSP approach.

Not in all respects, of course.  AT&T seems to be the out-front retail control in the deals in most cases, and AT&T’s NetBond cloud-integration strategy covers pretty much the whole cloud waterfront, which means neither Amazon nor IBM have an exclusive benefit and AT&T has the potential for classical channel conflict—who do they partner with on a preferred basis for things like IoT, a focus of the deals?

The big difference between the Masergy model and the AT&T model is that point about easing the burden of meeting technical challenges with your own staff.  Masergy simplifies the problem through bundling, but it’s difficult to bundle business services with networks because business services are delivered through applications that vary almost as much as the businesses do.  The cloud is not a solution, it’s a place to host one, which makes AT&T’s NetBond partnership paths harder to tread.  We’ll have to see if they can make it work.

Will the AT&T/TW Deal Offer Operators Another Pathway to Profit?

The deal between AT&T and Time Warner hasn’t yet to be approved but it seems pretty likely to happen.  In any event, just the attempt is big news for the industry.  Many see this as a new age for media companies, but there are many questions of whether a conglomerate like this is the answer to telco woes or just a slowing of the downward spiral.

The theory behind the “this is the age of conglomerates” position is that 1) owning content and distribution makes you powerful and 2) Comcast has already done this with NBCUniversal.  The second proves the first, I guess.  Let’s leave that aside for a moment and examine the question of whether the parts of the deal are solid, and whether the whole is greater than their sum.  We’ll then move on to “what it means for networking.”

Content is indeed king these days, and TV or movie content in particular, but it’s a king facing a revolution.  The big factor is mobility and the behavioral changes that mobility has generated.  People are now expecting to be connected with their friends in a social grid almost anytime and anywhere.  We all see this behavior daily; people can’t seem to put their phones down.  Yes, this does create some interest in viewing content on that same mobile device, but that’s not the big factor driving change.

The first real driver is that if your day is a bunch of social-media episodes punctuated by occasional glimpses of something else, then you’re probably less interested in 30- or 60-minute TV shows and they frown on using phones in movies.  It’s also harder to socialize a long TV program because everyone probably can’t get it and because you really only want to share a specific moment of the show anyway.  Mobile users live different lives, and thus need different content paradigms, perhaps even different content.  YouTube or SnapChat or Facebook video is a lot closer to their right answer than broadcast TV or going to a movie.

The second driver is a negative-feedback response to the first.  The most coveted consumers are the young adults, and as more of them move to being focused online the advertising dollars follow them.  Television offers only limited ad targeting, and as a result of the mobile wave TV has been losing ad dollars.  To increase profits, the networks have to sell more ads and reduce production costs, which is why a very large segment of the viewing population (and nearly all that coveted young-adult segment) think that there are too many commercials on TV and that the quality of the shows is declining.

What this means is that buying a network or a studio isn’t buying something rising like a rocket, but something gliding slowly downward.

That may not be totally bad if your own core business is gliding downward faster.  The online age has, perhaps by accident, killed the basic paradigm of the network provider—more bits cost more money and so earn more revenue.  With the Internet in wireline form, there’s no incremental payment for incremental traffic generated, and the revenue generated by a connection isn’t proportional to speed of connection.  Operators have been putting massive pressure on vendors to reduce their cost of operations since they don’t have a huge revenue upside.

Developments like SDN and NFV were hoped-for paths to address cost management beyond just beating vendors up on price, but operators don’t seem to be able to move the ball without positive vendor support, and even the vendors who’d stand to gain from a shift from traditional network models to SDN or NFV don’t seem to be able to get their act together.  The vendors who disappoint operator buyers the most are the computer vendors, who should be all over transformation and who seem mired in the same quicksand as the other vendors.

Why are vendors resisting?  Because they want to increase their profits too, or want an easy path to success and not one that puts them at risk.  That attitude is what’s behind the AT&T/TW deal, and it was also the driver for Comcast’s acquisition of NBCU.  New revenue is a good thing, and buying it is safer than trying to build it, even if what you’re buying also has a questionable future.

Both Comcast and now AT&T have two decisions to make, more complicated ones than they had before their media buy.  The first question is whether they try to make up their network-profit problems with media profits, and the second is whether they try to fix their acquired media risk or their current network risk.

If the future profit source is media, then the goal on the network side is just to prevent losses.  You minimize risk, but also minimize incremental risk and first cost.  You answer the second question decisively as “I bet on media!”  The network is a necessary evil, the delivery system and not the product.

If the future profit source is the network and media is intended to provide transitional coverage on the profit side, then you have a big question on the priority front.  Do you push hard for network profit improvement now, when you still have air cover from your recent media deals, or do you work on media to extend the period when media can profit you as you need it to?

This all comes to roost in the issue of AT&T’s ECOMP.  It’s one of the two dominant carrier architectures for next-gen networking, and since AT&T has promised to open-source ECOMP and Orange is trialing it in Poland, it’s clearly gaining influence.  When AT&T’s future depended completely on network profitability, ECOMP was probably the darling of senior management.  The question now is whether it will remain so, not only for AT&T but for other operators.

Could the TW deal be viewed as an indication that AT&T isn’t confident that ECOMP will fix the contracting profit margins created by declining revenue per bit?  It could be, though I don’t think that’s the dominant vision.  TW represents a plumb that AT&T would hardly want to go to a rival, right?  (Think Verizon, rival-wise).  But if network profits could rise quickly, would AT&T care about that as much as they’d care whether other operators were leveraging the same architecture as they are?  If they cared about that, would they open-source their solution?

I don’t think AT&T will intentionally shift its focus to advancing media and forget ECOMP.  I’d estimate that TW would represent only about 15% of the revenue of the combined company and just a bit more of the profit, so TW can’t fill the revenue-per-bit hole for very long.  However, the TW deal could spark a run of M&A by telcos, and everyone I know on the Street tells me that you don’t do a big acquisition then let it run by itself.  Management focus follows M&A, particularly big M&A.

Could this deal slow SDN and in particular NFV?  Yes, absolutely, though candidly NFV has been more than capable of stalling its own progress without outside help.  It could also help focus proponents of a new architecture model for networks, focus them on a realistic business case and a realistic pathway to achieving it.  It could even accelerate interest in a higher-level service model as the driver of that architecture, because content and content delivery is a higher layer.

A final note; there aren’t enough big media companies out there to allow every telco or cableco to buy one.  Those who can’t will have an even bigger problem than before, because other network providers with media-boosted bottom lines will be available for investors.  When any M&A frenzy subsides, those who lost at musical chairs may be even more dedicated to improving infrastructure efficiency.

Applying Google’s Service Orchestration Lessons to NFV

When I blogged about the Google federated layers model I had a request from a LinkedIn contact to blog about applying the approach to NFV.  I said I’d blog more on the topic next week, but it’s important enough to slot in for today.  It is indeed possible to view NFV’s coordinated orchestration or decomposition as a federation problem, and there are several options that could be applied to the approach, all of which have benefits.  And perhaps issues, of course.  Let me warn you now that we’ll have to ease into this to be sure everyone is up to speed.

For purposes of this discussion we need to broaden the traditional definition of “federation” to mean a relationship between network domains that supports the creation of services or service elements using contributed resources or services.  This would include the traditional operator mission of federation, which is focused on sharing/cooperating across administrative domains or business units.

OK, let’s now move to the orchestration coordination point.  “Orchestration” is the term that’s arisen in NFV to describe the coordinated combining of service elements to create and sustain services.  Generally, orchestration has a lot of common with DevOps, the process of deploying and managing an application lifecycle in the cloud or data center.  DevOps for ages has recognized two basic models, “declarative” and “imperative”.  The former defines deployment in terms of the goal-state—what are you trying to get as your end-game.  The latter defines a set of steps that (presumably) lead to that goal-state.  One defines intent, in modern terms, and the other defines process.

A further complication in the area of NFV is the jurisdictional division that’s been created.  NFV explicitly targets the process of combining virtual functions and deploying them.  A service would rarely consist entirely of virtual functions, and so NFV implies that there exists an end-to-end orchestration process that would do the stuff needed beyond what the NFV ISG defines.  This approach is explicit in the AT&T ECOMP and Verizon architectures for NFV.

If you have end-to-end orchestration of something that itself is an orchestrated process (as NFV function-deployment is) then you have an orchestration hierarchy and layers.  That raises the question of how many layers there are and how the layered structure is decomposed to drive deployment.  Let’s then start with the two overall models—declarative and imperative—inherited from DevOps and see if we can make any useful judgements.

I think it’s clear that an imperative approach—a deployment script—works only if you assume that you have a fair number of layers or abstractions.  Imagine having to write a recipe for service deployment that had no interior structure.  You’d end up with one script for virtually every customer order of every service, or certainly a very large number of configuration-dependent and order-parameter-dependent steps.  This is what software people call a “brittle” structure because a little change somewhere breaks everything.

If we do have an imperative approach with a hierarchy of layers, then it’s obvious that the layers at the “bottom” would be really deploying stuff and those at the top organizing how the bottom layers were organized and connected.  Thus, IMHO, even the imperative approach would depend on higher-layer descriptions that would look more and more like declarations.

This is why I don’t like the YANG-driven thinking on orchestration.  YANG has limitations even for describing connectivity, and it has more serious limitations describing virtual function deployment.  It is, IMHO, unsuitable for describing open abstractions—declarations.  TOSCA is far better for that.  But for this discussion let’s forget the details and focus on the structure.

Right now, we have a kind of fuzzy view that there are two or three specific levels of orchestration.  There’s service-level, end-to-end stuff.  There’s functional orchestration, and then there’s the device diddling at the bottom in some models.  Is that the right number?  What, if anything, could actually set the number of layers, and if something did would the setting be useful or arbitrary?

Here we get back to the notion of a model—declarative or imperative.  A model has to be processed, decomposed if you will, to some substructure.  While it’s true that we could develop software to decompose multiple model structures, it’s unlikely that would be a logical approach.  So, we can say that the number of different decomposition approaches equals the number of different models we use.  But what is the optimum number?  I think Google’s approach, which has five layers of decomposition, illustrates that there probably isn’t an optimum number.

Does this then argue for an infinitely layered and infinitely complicated orchestration approach?  The answer is that it depends.  In theory, a hierarchical model could be decoded by any number of orchestrators as long as each understood the model at the level that it was applied.  If every model represents a series of intent-or-declarative elements, then you could have any element decoded by anything, and it wouldn’t even have to decode into the same deployment as long as the SLA offered to the higher layer was met.

This is the lesson Google teaches.  You can structure a layer of the network in any way that optimizes what you value, and if you present its capabilities in an abstract way (one that cedes details of implementation for firmness of SLA) then it doesn’t matter.  You build layers and models to represent elements in layers as you will.

My personal view has always been that the best approach would be to have a uniform modeling down to the point where resources are committed (roughly to what ETSI calls the Virtual Infrastructure Manager).  You compose upward to services by aggregating whatever is useful in whatever way you like; layers would be unimportant because there’d be no functional subdivision to create them.  TOSCA could support this approach all the way to the bottom, which is one reason I like it.

The relationship between “layers” of orchestration and different models or different orchestration software tools is pretty clear.  A fixed layer exists where there’s a boundary, a different model or a different orchestrator.  I think boundaries of any sort are a risk to an emerging technology, so I think we either have to demand a single model/orchestrator from top to bottom, or we have to mandate an open model and orchestration strategy where any element in a service structure could be decomposed in any convenient way.

This puts me in gentle opposition to the approach that’s embodied in both AT&T’s and Verizon’s NFV models, because they do have fixed layers with implicitly different models and explicitly different orchestrators.  I think both operators have an interest in advancing NFV, which I share, but I think that since service modeling and orchestration is the cornerstone of software automation, we can’t afford to get this wrong.  I’d hope that somebody revisits this issue, quickly.  We could get locked by inertia into a limited approach with limited benefits.

Google’s Cloud Network as a Model of Federation

I have already blogged on aspects of Google Andromeda and a network-centric vision of the cloud.  SDxCentral did an article on Google’s overall vision, based on a presentation Google gave at SDN World Congress, and I think the vision merits some additional review.

One of the key points in the Google approach is that it is really five SDNs in one application, or perhaps a better way to put it is that Google applies five different SDN frameworks in a cooperative way.  At the SDN level, at least, this is an endorsement of the notion of infrastructure as a loosely coupled hierarchy of structures that are independently controlled within.  That’s a form of federation, though the fact that Google is a single company means that it doesn’t have to worry about the “horizontal” form, cutting over across multiple administrative domains.

There has never been any realistic chance that SDN would deploy in a large-scale application using a monolithic controller.  However, Google seems to be illustrating a slightly different vision of vertical federation, and that might be helpful in NFV.  First, though, we should look at federation overall.

“Federation” is a widely used but not universal term for a cooperative relationship between independent service management domains, aimed at presenting a single set of “services” to a higher-level user.  That user might be a retail or wholesale customer, so federation in this sense is a kind of fractal process, meaning that a given service might be a federation of other lower services.

Taken horizontally, federation has proved a requirement in even conventional services because many buyers have operating scopes broader than a single operator can support.  In the old post-divestiture days, a simple phone call could involve an originating local exchange carrier (LEC), an interexchange carrier (IXC) and a terminating LEC.  In this model of horizontal federation, there’s a common service conception within all the players, and an agreed gateway process through which they are linked (and settled).

Vertical federation isn’t as common, but it’s still used by operators who acquire transport (lower-layer) services from a partner to use in building a higher-level service infrastructure.  Mobile services often involve a form of horizontal federation (roaming) and a form of vertical federation (acquisition of remote metro trunks to support cell sites, or tower-sharing federations).

Even in modern networks we could see these two models migrating over, largely unchanged.  In fact, since current services depend on these early federation models, they’ll likely remain available for some time.  The question is what other models might arise, and this is a question Google may be helping to answer, but I want to talk about emerging horizontal federation first.

When you create a service across multiple infrastructure domains, you have three basic options.  First, you can follow the legacy model of a service set in each domain, linked through a service gateway.  Second, you can cede service creation to one domain and have it compose a unified service by combining lower-level services published by other domains.  Finally, you can let subordinate domains (for this particular service) cede resource control to the owning domain and let that domain deal with what it now sees as a unified set of resources.  All these options have merit, and risk.

The gateway approach is essential if you have legacy services built to use it, and legacy infrastructure that offers no other option.  The problem is that you’re either building something service-dependent (PSTN intercalling) or you’re concatenating lower-level services (notably IP) and then adding a super-layer to create the service you’re selling.  The former lacks agility and the latter poses questions on exploitation of the model by passive (non-paying) or OTT players.

The resource-ceding approach is an evolution of the current vertically integrated substructure-leasing model, like fiber trunks or backhaul paths.  It would give one operator control over the resources of another, and that’s something operators don’t like unless the resources involved are totally static.  However, the cloud’s model of multi-tenancy offers an opportunity to cede resources that include dynamic hosting and connectivity.  Groups like the ETSI NFV ISG have looked at this kind of cloud-like federation but it’s not really matured at this point.

The final model is the “component service” model.  The subordinate operators publish a service set from which the owning operator composes retail (or, in theory, other wholesale) services.  These subordinate services are inherently resource-independent and in modern terms are increasingly “virtual” in form, like a VPN or VLAN, and thus known by their SLAs and properties and not by their implementations.

Even a cursory review of these models demonstrates that the last one is really capable of becoming the only model.  If operators or administrative/technical domains publish a set of low-level services in virtual form, then those services could be incorporated in a vertical or horizontal way, or in combination, to create a higher-level service.

It’s into this mix that we toss the Google five-controller approach.  At the highest level, Google is building “Cloud 3.0” which is a virtual computer that’s created by connecting a bunch of discrete systems using a multi-layer network structure.  Google has two controllers that manage data center networks, the first to connect things at the server level and the second to abstract this into something more service-like.  Andromeda is this second controller set.

We then move to the WAN and higher.  B4, which is Google’s base-level WAN controller, provides for link optimization and their TE controller manages overall DCI connectivity.  Above all of that is the BwE controller that does service routing and enforcement at the total-complex level, and that’s responsible for insuring that you can meet application/service SLAs without creating lower-level issues (like the trade-off between latency and packet loss).

Google is doing vertical federation, but they don’t need to horizontally federate in their own network.  Their model, though, would be capable of federating horizontally because it’s based on a modeled service abstraction at all levels.  I think that Google is illustrating that the notion of an abstraction-based federation model is applicable to federation in any form, and that it would be the best way to approach the problem.

The abstraction approach would also map as a superset of policy-based systems.  A policy-managed federation presumes a common service framework (IP or Ethernet) and communicates the SLA requirements as policy parameters that are enforced by the receiving federation partner.  You can see the limitation of this easily; a common service framework doesn’t cover all possible services unless you have multiple levels of policies, and it also doesn’t open all the federation opportunities you might want to use because the partners never really exchange specific handling parameters, only service goals.

I also want to remind everyone that I’ve long advocated that NFV define a specific network and federation model, and I think the fact that Google defines its cloud in network terms shows how important the network is.  In enterprise cloud computing, too, Google is demonstrating that a private cloud has to be built around a specific network model, and that IMHO means adopting an SDN architecture for private clouds.

Are We Entering a New Phase of the “Cloud Wars?”

The truth will out they say, and that includes truth about the cloud.  According to a report in Business Insider, both Google and Amazon are now looking at their own premises cloud strategies, an acknowledgement that Microsoft and IBM may be onto something in just how far public cloud services can go.  And, perhaps most important, how they might get there.

There’s a perception, driven no doubt by publicity, that public cloud will eat all of IT.  That’s hardly realistic in my view.  Most of you know that I’ve been modeling public cloud adoption for years, and through that time my numbers have consistently shown that only about 24% of current applications can be transitioned to public cloud, and that even postulating adoption of cloud-specific application architectures the public cloud share struggles to hit 50%.  That means that virtually every enterprise ends up with a hybrid cloud because much of their stuff stays in the data center.

If the data center is an active partner in the future cloud, then it follows that data center IT giants could have, or could develop, a commanding cloud position by exploiting that truth.  In fact, since mission-critical or core applications are the ones most likely to be hybridized (and obviously are the most important), these IT giants could end up framing the way the cloud is used and the way that public cloud services have to be presented.

Microsoft’s Azure services have played on this truth from the first.  Windows Server and Azure share a programming model, and since Azure is PaaS it’s easy to migrate applications written to that model to an Azure cloud, and easier to integrate multi-component and microservice applications using Microsoft’s model.  All of this means that Microsoft could gain public cloud traction because it has a foot in the data center too.

Azure was in many respects a bold decision by Microsoft, because Microsoft has a product line (Windows Server and associated applications) that could be displaced by the cloud.  However, Microsoft is a PaaS player, which means that it gets incremental revenue from the cloud licensing of software.  Since Microsoft is in virtually every enterprise, even in Windows Server form not to mention desktop Windows, it’s been gradually building a following among enterprises, even in line departments.

IBM also seems to be playing a hybrid card, from a slightly different angle.  Their presumption appears to be that hybrid mission-critical stuff will indeed drive the cloud, but that this stuff will drive the cloud from the data center out.  IBM’s cloud strategy is carefully positioned to be presentable by IBM account teams to CIO-level buyers.  To prevent themselves from being left out of the phantom-IT-line-department deals, they split their public cloud (SoftLayer) off and have tended to focus on channel partners to move it.

The IBM approach seems to shift innovation focus to traditional IT and to partners, and as a result perhaps IBM’s SoftLayer web service repertoire falls short of the offerings of both Amazon and Microsoft.  Where the latter two companies have a rich set of both horizontal and vertical services aimed at developers of cloud-specific applications, IBM seems to prefer taking data center middleware elements into the cloud to preserve their ability to drive things from the IT professional side.

The challenge that both Microsoft and IBM pose for Amazon and Google is that very relationship between IT professionalism and cloud deployment.  If “Cloud One-Point-Zero” is the simple IaaS model, then it’s never going to move the ball much and probably never really alter the IT landscape either, media hype notwithstanding.  Thus, the question is how “Cloud Two-Point-Zero” comes about, and both IBM and Microsoft are doing a lot to empower traditional data center people in driving the cloud bus within the enterprise.  That would leave both Amazon and Google on the outside, since neither company has a position in the data center.

The question is how to counter this, and I wonder if trying to get into the data center platform business is the right answer, for three reasons.

The first reason is that they risk exacerbating their risk rather than controlling it.  The threat to Amazon and Google is less that someone else will drive a data-center-centric vision of cloud evolution, but that such a vision will develop at all.  What both Amazon and Google need is for computing to become more populist, tactical, framed on hosted offerings rather than on self-development.  That’s not what data center and development people would be predisposed to do, no matter who’s selling cloud to them.

The second reason is that to the extent that either Microsoft or IBM would pose a specific threat, open-source premises computing is a better response, and one that’s both accepted by buyers and supported by several highly credible sellers.  Microsoft and IBM already struggle to position against open-source alternatives, and it’s very possible that an organized drive by Amazon or Google to penetrate the data center would help the very IT giants they fear most.

The final reason is that Amazon and Google would fail in an attempt to field a real data center platform.  You need massive account presence, field marketing support, technical support, positioning and marketing—stuff neither company has in place for data center sales situations.  Further, deciding to compete in the data center would likely result in Microsoft and IBM using their account influence against Amazon and Google cloud solutions.

So what should Amazon and Google do?  The answer is simple; create more and better cloud web services that can be used in data center and hybrid applications.  And target IBM specifically, not Microsoft.

Distributed, cloud-hosted, application components are the best way to advance cloud adoption and shift dollars from data center to cloud.  The further this trend goes, the more spending will be impacted and so cloud providers would benefit more.  Obviously, the converse is true and if IBM and/or Microsoft got more enterprises to drive their cloud plans in a data-center-centric way, then probably more spending would stay in the data center.

IBM is the greater threat in this regard because IBM has a very specific need to protect its remaining enterprise data center business.  IBM has suffered a revenue decline for almost 20 quarters, and it seems very unlikely that the growth in its cloud revenues will cover future declines in data center spending any better than it has in the past—which is not well at all.  Also, IBM is struggling with an effective cloud strategy and positioning, far more so than Microsoft who seems on track.  Finally, IBM doesn’t have the broad horizontal and vertical web services in its cloud that Amazon, Google, and even Microsoft have.  Any campaign to promote growth of this type of service would thus hurt IBM.

We are not in a battle to see if the cloud will replace private IT; it won’t.  We are definitely in a battle for how the applications of the future will be developed, and that battle could alter the way that public cloud, private cloud, and traditional application models divide up the IT budgets.  In fact, it’s that issue that will be the determinant, and I think we’re seeing signs that the big players now realize that basic truth.  Expect a lot of development-driven cloud changes in the next couple years.

Divergence of Operator Visions of NFV Show Inadequacies in Our Approach

Transformation of a trillion-dollar infrastructure base isn’t going to be easy, and that’s what network operators are facing.  Some don’t think it’s even possible, and a Light Reading story outlines Telecom Italia’s thinking on the matter.  We seem to be hearing other viewpoints from other operators, so what’s really going on here?

There’s always been an uncertainty about the way that virtualization (SDN, NFV, SD-WAN) are accommodated in operations systems.  If we were to cast the debate in terms of the Founding Fathers, we could say that there are “loose constructionists” and “strict constructionists” regarding the role of the OSS/BSS in virtualization.

In the “loose construction” school, the thinking is that orchestration technology is applied almost seamlessly across virtualization processes, management processes, and operations processes.  A service is made up of truly abstract elements, each of which represents a collection of features that might be supplied by a device, a software function, or a management system representing a collection of devices.  Each of the elements has its own states and events, and operations is integrated on a per-element basis.  It’s all very flexible.

In the “strict construction” view, all this is complicated and disruptive.  This group believes that since the general practice of the past was to manage devices with operations systems, you used virtualization to build a specific set of “virtual devices”, most of which would probably be software-hosted equivalents of real things like firewalls or routers.  These would then be managed in pretty much the same way as the old stuff was, which means that operations wouldn’t really be seriously impacted by virtualization at all.

Both these approaches still need “orchestration” to handle the automation of service lifecycle tasks, or you can’t achieve the benefits of SDN, NFV, or SD-WAN.  Arguably, the big difference is in the extent to which orchestration, abstraction, and virtualization are integrated across the boundary between “services” and “networks” and between “networks” and “devices”.

With the strict-construction virtual-device approach, virtualization has to live inside the virtual device, which becomes a kind of black box or intent-model that abstracts the implementation of device features to hide the specifics from the operations layer.  You don’t need to change the OSS/BSS other than (possibly) to recognize the set of virtual devices you’ve created.  However, the OSS plane is isolated from the new tools and processes.  This point is what I think gives rise to the different operator views on the impact of things like NFV on OSS/BSS.

If you have an NFV mission that targets virtual CPE (vCPE), you have a model that easily translates to a virtual-device model.  The boxes you displaced were chained on premises, and you service-chain them inside a premises device or in the cloud.  The feature looks to the buyer like a box, so it makes sense to manage it like a box, and if you do adopt a premises-hosted model there’s no real shared resources used so there’s no need for fault correlation across a resource pool.

If you have a broader vision of NFV, one that imagines services created by dynamically linking cloud-hosted features in both the data plane and control plane, then it’s difficult to see how this dynamism could be represented as a static set of virtual devices.  There are also concerns that, to prevent the virtual device from becoming a hard barrier to extending operations automation, these virtual devices would all have to be redefined to more generally model network functions—a true intent model.  That would then require that traditional devices somehow be made to support the new features.

Both existing infrastructure and existing operations tools and practices act as an inertial break on transformation, and that’s especially true when nothing much has been done to address how the legacy elements fit into a transformation plan.  We don’t really understand the evolution to NFV, and in particular the way that we can achieve operations and agility savings with services that still (necessarily) include a lot of legacy pieces.  We also don’t understand exactly how the future benefits will be derived, or even what areas they might come from.

When you have uncertainty in execution, you either have to expand your knowledge to fit your target or you have to contact your target to fit your knowledge.  Some operators, like AT&T, Verizon, Telefonica, and (now, with their trials of AT&T’s ECOMP) Orange, seem to have committed to attempting the former course, and Telecom Italia may believe that we’re just not ready to support that evolution at this point.

The underlying problem is going to be difficult.  A service provider network and the associated craft/operational processes is a complex and interdependent ecosystem.  Yet every technology change we support is (necessarily) specific, and we tend to focus it on a very limited area of advance in order to build consensus and promote progress.  That means that, taken alone, none of these technology changes are likely to do more than create a new boundary point where we have interactions that we don’t fully understand, and that don’t fully support the goals of technology transformation.  Certainly we have that in SDN and NFV.

The end result of this is that we ask network operators to do something that the equipment vendors doing the asking would never do themselves.  We ask them to bet on a technology without the means of fully justifying it, or even understanding what credible paths toward justification exist.  They’re not going to do that, and it’s way past time that we stop criticizing them for being backward or culturally deficient, and face business reality.

NFV has been around since October 2012 when the Call for Action paper was first published.  I’ve been involved in it since then; I responded to that paper when there was no ISG at all.  In my view, every useful insight we’ve had in NFV was exposed by the summer of 2013.  Most of them have now been accepted, but it’s been a very long road even to that limited goal, and it’s going to be even more time before we have a workable framework to implement the insights.  We need to nudge this along.

I’d like to see two things happen.  First, I’d like to see the ISG take the combination of the Verizon and AT&T frameworks and look at them with the goal of harmonizing them and drawing from them a conception of end-to-end, top-to-bottom, NFV without making any attempt to validate the work already done.  We need to use formal frameworks that address the whole problem to develop a whole-problem architecture.  Second, I’d like to see the TMF stop diddling on their own operations modernization tasks (ZOOM) and come up with a useful model, again without trying to justify their current approach or their own business model.

If we do these things, I think we can get all the operators onto the same—right—page.

Getting the Range on 5G Evolution

I am just as excited about the potential of 5G as anyone, but I’m also a little worried that we might fall prey to some of the same issues that have hurt SDN, NFV, and IoT.  We have a lot of time to get this done right, but we do have to be sure to take some essential steps in the time we have.

Stripped of all the hype and nonsense, 5G is a set of specifications that are designed to bring mobile/cellular services into the mainstream.  Up to now, we’ve based mobile services on a special set of standards that called out special infrastructure, custom devices, and so forth.  The hope is that 5G will fix that.  Up to now, we’ve had to build non-connection services above and independent of the mobile network; the hope is that 5G will fix that too.  Segmentation of services and operators (MVNOs, roaming) were barely accommodated before, and should be fundamental to 5G.

If we had no mobile services today, all of these capabilities would be somewhat daunting.  With mobile services being the profit focus of operators and the consumer’s target of desire, it’s way more than that.  Given that we’re also trying to work in “revolutions” like SDN and NFV, you can start to appreciate the industry challenge this represents.  To meet it we have to do something we’ve typically not done—start at the top.

Logically, the top of 5G is the user.  Every user is represented by an appliance, and that appliance provides the user with a set of service connections.  Since we don’t want to have an architecture that isolates 5G users from other users, we should visualize the user population as being connected to a series of “service planes”, like voice calling, SMS, and Internet.

So far, this model would describe not only current wireless services but also wireline.  It’s a matter of how the service-plane implementation is handled.  That’s a good thing, because the first test of an architecture is whether it can represent all the stages of what you’re trying to do.

The next thing, then, is to look at the service-plane connection and implementation.  As I’ve just suggested, this is a two-stage process, meaning that we have a “connection” to services and an “implementation” of services.  Let’s look at that with an illustration, HERE, and you can follow this along with the text below.


Today, in theory, we have a consumer and business service plane that can support three classes of users—wireline, wireless, and satellite.  Today, each of these user types are supported by independent implementations within the service plane (though there is some trunk-sharing), connected into a cohesive service through a gateway process set.  Voice and data services are converging on IP but still have a substantial service-specific set of elements.  All of this is due to the way that services and infrastructure has evolved.

This now opens the discussion of 5G, because one of the goals of 5G is to converge mobile service implementation on a common model, probably one based on IP.  So what we could say the future would look like is an expanded model for an IP service plane that could support not only mobility (for new mobile services) but also wireline IP and satellite services.  This means that access-technology or device-specific service connectivity would be harmonized with generic service-plane behavior in the access connection.

That single service-plane implementation, as defined here, is based on IP connectivity.  But in reality what we want is to be able to support service tenancy, meaning that we can segment the service plane by service, by operator (MVNO), etc.  Each segment would be potentially a ship in the night, though any of them could still be integrated in some way with other segments.  This is a mission that’s usually assigned to SDN in some form, including possibly the overlay-SD-WAN model.

Any of the service planes would be made up of trunks and nodes, and these trunks and nodes could be either physical devices/pathways or virtual (function) elements, meaning that they could be hosted on something.  To me, this suggests that under the service plane and its tenants, we have an infrastructure plane that is made up of multiple layers.  First, we have contributed services, meaning the fundamental services that are consumed by the service plane to create retail offerings.  Second, we have a resource layer that provides the raw materials.

In the resource area, we have a combination of three things—real devices, virtual devices/functions, and hosting facilities.  My view here is that we have function classes, meaning abstract things that can build up to services, and that these function classes can be fulfilled either with real appliances or hosted virtual functions.  There should be a common model for all the necessary function classes; this wasn’t done with NFV and it’s essential if you’re going to harmonize service management and make operations more efficient.

Orchestration, as a function, is parallel with these layers, but you don’t necessarily have to use a single model or tool across them all.  I do believe that a single orchestration model and software set would be beneficial, but I’m trying to be realistic here and avoid demanding uniformity when it’s not clear whether quick adoption and facile evolution might be better served with multiple models.

Management, in my view, focuses on managing function classes using class-specific APIs that would likely build from a base function-management set common to all function classes.  The function-class model could assure that we have consistent management no matter how the specific component services are implemented at that moment, which makes it evolution-friendly.

Some people will argue that this approach doesn’t have much specific to do with 5G, but I disagree.  5G’s goals can be divided into the radio-network goal, which is wireless-specific, and the “convergence and segmentation” goal, which is generalized.  We don’t need as much industry debate on the former as on the latter, and you can’t achieve a general goal while considering only one technology from the list your trying to converge.

The general, but largely unrecognized, trend in networking has been toward a specific overlay/underlay model, a model where infrastructure is harmonized in capabilities across a range of service options, and where service specificity is created like any other feature.  Increasingly by hosting, obviously.  Virtualization is the current way we see this model evolving, but we can’t lose sight of the goals by diddling with pieces of solution and small segments of the overall opportunity.