The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Telco Transformation
What is all this aaS?
Much has been said of the benefits of virtualization and adopting cloud architectures in telco communications networks. The move from ‘hardware to software’ for the telco industry is not as intuitive as one might hope, but in the end, driven by a long list of benefits that such a move might enable. This list of benefits is often includes increased agility, faster time to market and operational efficiencies. Other benefits such as lower costs, both in terms of CapEX and OpEx, have been slower to materialize and still spark avid debates.
As I mentioned, while the industry has been talking about this ‘transformation’ for a long time, the transition has been a long drawn out process. For many of us who have been in the industry for a long time, the transition is not simple, nor easy to complete. In fact, in a late Telecoms.com annual survey about SDN and NFV adoption, one of the biggest inhibitors to implementation was ‘people skills’. And for many, there seems to be great confusion, not only about the new terminologies which seem to have crept into our daily lives, but also about the implications of such a transition on how we fulfill our daily tasks.
In this series, I will attempt to dispel some of the mystery around the terminology and implications. I hope to provide a sort of ‘beginner’s guide to telco transformation’ by walking you through some of the concepts and pointing out some of the decision making criteria. Don’t worry if you are still grappling with the terms, you are definitely not alone, and I hope this series will provide at least some of the answer some of you are looking for.
We will begin at the beginning with a look at some of the hottest concepts dominating the transition: from platforms, to architectures to research and development processes, we will slowly but surely tackle them all one by one and most importantly try to understand “why you should care?”. This series may not make you an expert, but hopefully it will make you a bit more comfortable when you’re at the table with some of the more trendy, ‘cloudified’ and ‘virtualized’ folks in the industry :)
Let’s start this series with a basic discussion of some of my favorite concepts: SaaS, IaaS and PaaS.
SaaS vs. IaaS vs. PaaS – ‘What as a Service’?
It wasn’t that long ago that everything in our industry was tied to hardware. If you needed more capacity you added more ports, or maybe another system. If you wanted to add another point of entry, you added another router. If you wanted more functions, like firewalls or BRAS, you added a dedicated appliance which enabled them.
Customer premise devices sprouted up all over, with communications closets housing everything from routers, to servers, to appliances. And while you could procure each device from a single source, many of us chose solutions from a variety of suppliers. For each piece of hardware, we understood the limits and their operating criteria, as well as their costs. If you needed more than the appliance allowed, for any reason, you bought a new box. But then the industry ‘moved to the cloud’ and a change took place.
We didn’t have to look far: data centers, mobile phones and the computer industry all underwent a similar transformation. Hardware was split from software, the control plane from the data plane and so on. Now you could buy any brand computer, any operating system (alright so one dominant OS and a bunch of others), and add on top all the applications you wanted. From one vendor or two, or anyone you chose. Most of us asked: ‘if it worked for them, why can it not work for me’?
The ability to virtualize gave rise to new ways to incorporate network functions and capabilities into the network. And with them, new concepts arose including SaaS, IaaS and PaaS. In the next post we will talk a little bit more about each and delve into the benefits of the service rather than product mindset.