A New Slant on SDN and the Cloud?

ATIS (Alliance for Telecom Industry Solutions) is going to launch an SDN initiative aimed at generating a viable ecosystemic strategy without the bottlenecks of traditional standardization—take a leaf from the OTT tree.  This is sort of hopeful to me not because I think they’ve made any progress at this point, but because they seem to be acknowledging the two critical data points that other activities have forgotten.

We’re going to have SDN ready or not, standards-wise, because market conditions will drive progress.  Cisco made that point in a negative sense by demonstrating it’s prepared to meet SDN goals on its own, both in the optical space and in virtual networking.  Ericsson and Huawei both took the positive side of the issue, speaking at BBWF in favor of doing something constructive in a collaborative sense in the industry.

I’ve written here often on the need to look ahead for the cloud, to a time when applications are developed with the cloud in mind.  That view hasn’t gotten much (well, any) play with the major cloud types, but now we have a cloud player who’s saying the right thing (sort of) about the cloud value proposition.  Cloudscaling, an experienced player but hardly a household word, actually features the notion of dynamic cloud-specific applications on their website, making them the first of the cloud stack providers to push that critical positioning overtly (others could argue they support the concept but don’t call that out in any conspicuous way.

The Cloudscaling “Open Cloud System 2.0” was announced last week at the OpenStack summit, and that demonstrates that the product is built on OpenStack.  The material suggests that Cloudscaling is adding a management/abstraction layer that is designed to help host SaaS and PaaS apps as well as those dynamic for-the-cloud applications, but there’s no real detail provided on exactly what is offered or how it works.  Given that OpenStack is essentially an IaaS model, it’s not clear whether Cloudscaling doesn’t tout IaaS because it’s OpenStack table stakes or because they have something truly special built in/on it.  I’ve asked the company for more information and I hope to be able to dig a bit deeper when/if they provide it.

Whatever the secret sauce is, the company has managed to gain some traction with network operators.  They are one of two lesser-known cloud software players who actually show up in an operator survey of cloud software (Joyent is the other), and their message that what gets built as applications and services on the cloud is more important than hosting IaaS resonates with operators I’ve talked to, most of whom are very concerned about having cloud computing become just another low-margin business like transport/connection networking.

I think the confusion about just what these guys do is a testament to the problem with the market perception of the cloud.  I’ve talked to a lot of reporters and editors about the cloud, and while some are very open to hearing views that diverge from popular cloud myth if they’re grounded in real buyer/provider interest, others are simply trying to write another chapter in the same story.  This makes it hard for a company like Cloudscaling to get a new story out, even if they have all the collateral in the world to justify it.  It also makes it hard for cloud prospects to review candidates for their infrastructure without going through an arduous research process that involves contacting everyone and asking for answers.  Most early-phase buyers are reluctant to step in front of a sales-call avalanche by making direct contact and asking for data, so in many cases these companies never get to bat.

One company who is getting to bat a LOT more often, apparently, is NSN.  After years of being a drag on the parents’ earnings, NSN has made a nice contribution to them in the current quarter.  The move reflects the company’s focus on 4G technology, and in particular on the use of a combination of smaller LTE cells and WiFi to create a highly flexible and even higher-capacity mobile network.  NSN makes the bold statement that they could deliver a gig per user in quota bandwidth, far more than is consumed today but consistent with what large-scale video use (tablets, for example) could be expected to drive.    It’s a start of a good story, I think.

The other part is something in mobile/behavioral services.  Operators are not at all sure that the current model of mobile marketing (“Who has the latest iPhone or iPad?  Me!”) is going to survive long given that Apple and others who can build their own brand can easily consider MVNO status.  That renders the operator invisible, and that means that talking about how fluid their mobile network is won’t do much good.  Operators need to be thinking about how to make their network assets rear up above the waterline in a handset-MVNO world, and services are the only solution.  If NSN gets that part right they could be formidable.  Maybe they need a cloud partner!


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