In my role at Intel, I work with customers and partners at a time of fundamental change in the form and function of communication networks. As a consumer of technology, I share the frustration over slow connections, poor download speeds and worse – spotty Internet connectivity. I also recognize that most of us expect high-speed connections to work, whether or not we pay for them.
Consumer expectations of the service provided by communication service providers (CommSPs) continue to grow along with the number of connected devices and related data consumption, and these consumers want more value for these services. We’re under constant pressure to keep up with current demands, decrease capital and operational expenses and plan for the 5G future, a generational transformation that will shape industries for at least the next decade.
The pressure is universal, but it’s particularly pertinent on the network edge. Each central office must support Fixed Mobile Convergence in addition to increasing numbers of subscribers, devices and data. At the same time, communication service providers view the network edge as a strategic location to provide innovative services, for 5G, network slicing, IoT, immersive media, entertainment and more.
We must apply our experience in cloud and virtualization technologies to central offices to relieve the pressure, keep data flowing and forge a path towards 5G. We call this the Next Generation Central Office (NGCO.)
What is a Next Generation Central Office? Why Do We Need It?
Immersive media and video require lower latency, more bandwidth and storage capacity. Traditional central offices don’t have the necessary compute power, agility and speed to support these services at a cost that is sustainable. Further, this legacy infrastructure doesn’t support the speed and nimbleness required to compete with Over the Top (OTT) providers and won’t maximize the opportunity from the 5G environment.
A Next Generation Central Office is a fiber-rich mini or edge datacenter that can support both fixed and mobile traffic and serve up to 35,000 subscribers per central office compared to 5,000 in today’s CO. Located between Access Network and Metro Transport, the NGCO functions as a local edge datacenter with a smaller area and power footprint than a traditional, centralized or hyperscale datacenter.
Network function virtualization (NFV), NFV infrastructure (NFVI) and software defined networking (SDN) will be key to supporting the reliable deployment and flexible configuration of new infrastructure and services, while optimizing networks to manage the current mix of services. Carriers can utilize many NFVI configurations (rack, CPUs, NICs, storage and management), whether it’s a small, regional service and network functions on a single NFVI server or a mini-datacenter in the middle of a city.
The underlying virtualization and cloud architectures are available, and server volume economics support the business case for NGCO investments. A recent survey by IHS finds that 85 percent of operator respondents plan to create, or will have already deployed, smart central offices in 2018.
Engage an Ecosystem to Tackle NFVI and NGCO Transformation
Many hard-earned lessons and investments from cloud and early NFV and SDN deployments are transferable to NGCO.
Industry standards bodies and the open source community continue to develop reference platforms, architectures and applications for NFV and SDN and VNFs. Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) just announced the OPNFV Verified Program to test the readiness of commercial products designed to run on OPNFV-based infrastructure. The Open Networking Foundation’s Open Central Office Redefined as a Datacenter (Open CORD) group is another great example of a community focused on developing open reference implementations built on COTS, disaggregated access technologies and open source software. Major communication service providers are actively engaged from the board level through the rest of the organization to drive this important initiative. Intel continues to support these organizations and others to accelerate the widespread commercial adoption of these transformational technologies.
Intel is also bolstering its Intel Network Builders partner ecosystem to tackle the most common challenges facing the industry. One example is Intel Select Solution for NFVI that includes optimized software and hardware configurations focused on the most commonly requested virtual network functions. The program helps communication service providers accelerate NFVI deployments by simplifying evaluation, purchasing and implementation.
We are excited to announce that Lenovo* and Quanta* have delivered commercial NFVI solutions based on the RedHat and Ubuntu open source platforms, respectively. Advantech*, HPE* and Nokia* have also committed to deliver Intel Select Solutions for NFVI.
Intel continues to invest in new platforms to support transformation from the data center to central office and edge. In the last 12 months, Intel launched Intel® Atom C3000, Intel® Xeon® Scalable and the new Intel® Xeon® D-2100 processor. Intel Xeon Scalable is ideally suited for NGCO deployments in dense, urban environments with larger, concentrated populations and intense network demands. With the scale of a world-class datacenter, CommSPs will have more than enough capacity, bandwidth and flexibility to support CommSP infrastructure and rapidly deliver new, immersive media services, such as AR/VR, in-stadium experiences and cloud gaming.
Announced in February, Xeon D-2100, by comparison, offers the same advanced intelligence of the Intel Xeon Scalable processor architecture in an optimized, dense, lower-power, system-on-a-chip (SoC) form factor. Xeon D-2100 is best suited for environments constrained by space and power typically found in suburban or rural NGCOs. The Xeon Scalable and the Xeon D processor families are ideally suited for applications that require low-latency, high-bandwidth processing required by NGCOs. Whether a CommSP deploys Xeon Scalable, Xeon D-2100, Atom C3000 or some combination of all three, ongoing investments in the Intel Architecture will stay ahead of future, network performance requirements.
Network Transformation from Core to Edge: Work is Underway
The industry now understands that distribution, new service delivery and 5G cannot be decoupled. Given that awareness, the transformation of the network edge is an evolution – not a revolution. The good news is that the same homogeneity that drove efficiencies in cloud networks also creates opportunities for NGCO.
There are a lot of variables that will shape the specific path your organization follows, but operators must invest in all areas of the network to reap the true benefits of network transformation. The network edge is ripe for innovation, and that transformation requires Next Generation Central Offices.
There’s a saying from Maya Angelou that has become part of our common vernacular, “now that I know better, I do better.” We have more tools, frameworks and resources focused on cloud, SDN, NFV and VNFs, so let’s apply those same lessons and resources to transform the edge and COs in a more repeatable, reliable fashion.
We are already engaged with our Intel® Network Builders ecosystem to develop a proof of concept and identify the most immediate needs of the CommSP community. I invite you to join us at Mobile World Congress at Hall 3 Stand 3E31 for a demonstration of a next generation central office.
I encourage you to engage Intel and our ecosystem of technology partners and communication service providers at conferences, Intel Network Builders events, industry association meetings and through online and social channels.
- See demos of Intel Select Solution for NFVI with both Lenovo and Quanta at Mobile World Congress, Hall 3 Stand 3E31, February 26-March 1
- Quanta will be part of a Next Generation Central Office demo
- Learn more at www.intel.com/mwc
- Listen to the recent Chip Chat podcast interview where I talk about NGCO
- Follow me on Twitter at @DanRod2000