Weighing up OpenStack: from Juno to Kilo and beyond

TRP: There's a lot of talk around Network Function Virtualization (NFV) at the summit. What's that all about?

JR: It's similar to software-defined Networking, or SDN, which is the idea that you can control the flow of traffic on the network. NFC is a sort-of subset of that, but it's also an application on the network.

Suddenly everybody has a smartphone, tablet and laptop that can be connected to a hotspot, and LTE demand for data goes through the roof. NFV is about handling that demand, and it's something that went into Juno.

Telcos have to go to all of their datacentres and install new pieces of hardware, such as new types of routers, but they have no way of really changing the format of what gets delivered in each data centre. A cell tower has a type of mini data centre at the bottom of it, and you also have switching stations. NFV is about taking all of that purpose-built hardware that telcos buy and get stuck with for 10 years, and running its functions on standard hardware while being able to change their make-up.

TRP: Why might NFV be a big opportunity for telcos?

JB: Telcos have had to make predictions about where the market is going for the last 10 years. Back then people probably a sent a lot more text messages than they do now, as it's now it's all about Whatsapp and Facebook, etc.

That's shifted the load from SMS to data, which is bad for telcos as they bought a ton of SMS routers that they thought were going to last for 10 years but aren't being used. If those data centres were filled with servers and they ran those functions virtually, they could shut off machines where SMS load is falling while turning up some LTE data machines remotely. That's the goal.

However, it's a trillion dollar industry and that's not going to happen in the next six months or even year - it's going to take several years as lifecycles turn over. It's going to completely change the way that telcos operate their networks and respond to changes in the market.

Opening keynote

Summit attendees await the opening keynote

TRP: How does NFV relate to OpenStack?

JB: OpenStack is software for managing infrastructure components, and enterprises often have them centralised in a data centre, or in a few datacentres. A telco has those components spread out all over the place, and they're in much smaller data centres that, when combined, are treated as a cloud in the way that they orchestrate their services.

Telcos tell us that when they look at their resources, they don't want to see any difference between a cloud that's 100 servers in a single location, and a cloud that's one server in 100 locations. That requires a different model in terms of how you manage and track resources, so the updates that have been going into OpenStack and Juno will appear in the next version, Kilo.

The other point is that, if you're going to route LTE data, the whole point of 4G and 5G networks is that they're meant to be really fast, and if you have to go through several layers of virtualization, with each layer downgrading your performance a notch, then you're kind of missing the point. So a lot of hypervisors and hardware have got to the point where there's a much greater ability to pass that raw hardware performance all the way up through the hypervisor and virtualization layer into the application.

It means that telcos can determine high performance applications and dedicate particular processors, or cores of processors, to applications, which is something we will be working on across several releases to meet some of those needs. It's cool because it will also help enterprises with high performance processing needs or distributed workloads - it's a massive opportunity.

How can OpenStack help companies disrupt industries that have been typically hard to crack - such as automotive and banking?

JB: The thing that's interesting when you look at really well-established industries is that they often have a few leaders that are really big. Industries like banking and automotive are often highly regulated too, so the incumbents face an environment that has a lot of rules about what they can do and how fast they can do things.

So when somebody comes into the digital currency market, for example, or e-payments where there are no laws because it didn't exist a couple of years ago, they're able to move much quicker and respond to customer demand.