Jeff Edlund, HP CMS: Trendy networks
The move to IP is aligning the telecoms and ICT worlds ever closer together. Alex Hawkes talks to the CTO of HP CMS, Jeff Edlund, to gain a deeper insight into the technologies radically transforming networks.
Jeff Edlund, CTO at HP’s Communications Media & Solution (CMS) division, is struggling to contain his excitement at the limitless potential of the modern IP environment.
“Dynamic” and “unbelievable” are just some of the frequently brandished adjectives he uses to describe the technologies transforming the world of telecommunications.
It’s hard to imagine anyone from the carrier community being so overtly positive. The ongoing transition from traditional switched circuit telephony to IP has pushed carriers into unfamiliar territory, led to a decline in traditional revenue streams and aligned the industry much closer to developments in the IT sphere.
As a result of the latter, traditional IT giants such as HP have slowly extended their reach into the telecoms market, and today stand as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of industry standard servers.
Part of its telecoms division is HP CMS, which in its own words serves two converging industries, telecoms and entertainment, with the overall goal of helping communications service providers (CSPs) transform their businesses to succeed in a fast-changing market.
Edlund prefers to describe HP CMS as a “software factory that actually builds IP”: “The IP is packaged and it’s repeatable. It can be sold as licences or operated as a hosted service for our customers. We have somewhere north of 90 different types of IP that we deliver.”
HP has made several acquisitions in the networking space in the last few years, most notably the $2.7 billion acquisition of network switching, routing and security solutions provider 3com in 2010. This, Edlund admits, was not driven by a strong foresight into the development of the telecoms segment, but rather by following IT trends: “The IT trend ended up marshalling itself down into the networks,” he adds.
Convergence and commoditisation
With a career stretching over 20 years, which has seen Edlund offer his technical expertise to the likes of Sprint, he traces the beginning of the convergence of telecoms and ICT back 10 years ago to when the network and IP services in a carrier environment first split.
“It meant carriers were no longer strictly tied from getting their services from the network and it started to cause some interesting commodisation opportunities.”
In the software segment, Service-Orientated Architecture (SOA) was rapidly starting to infiltrate itself in the traditional telecoms space. “The network moved from this classic signalling environment to more opportunity for IP-based services. The SOA started to emerge in the network and you saw this convergence starting to happen.”
The first challenge for carriers, he says, was learning how to run new services over IP. Now, he says, the challenge is to start replacing everything propriety they can in the network.
“Carriers are looking at those expensive pieces of silicon in their network – things like core routing and edge-based systems, and starting to explore how they can commoditise that space with things like Software Defined Networking (SDN) and OpenFlow. Flow-based routing in the network will help meet customer demand in an entirely new way.”
And contrary to popular belief in the carrier industry, this move towards SDN is already underway: “I’m hearing it from the UK. I’m hearing it firmly from the top two (Verizon and AT&T) in North America. They’ve got to move to SDN,” says Edlund.
“They are all looking inside of the SOA and doing things today that you would have thought were hearsay 10 years ago.” The threat of over-the-top (OTT) players (the subject of Capacity’s July/August cover story) will play a strong role in ensuring momentum keeps going.
Edlund warns of a risk of moving to the new world of IP and unified communications too fast. Namely, raising consumer expectation and then failing to deliver.
“Carriers will have to make some critical decisions and keep the balance,” he adds. “Carriers will pick off different parts of the network when they can, and they will accelerate as fast as they can without disrupting the revenue business – which is the network itself.”
IT and telecoms together
In order to achieve this “commoditisation” of the networks, Edlund believes a much more collaborative approach is required between carriers and technology providers. There are signs that the carrier segment is relinquishing its belief that they can manage the whole mobile communications stack themselves.
“We are seeing a much more collaborative attitude, where the carriers are providing the communications services and the management and security ability, and we are bringing in our expertise with the industry standard servers and the software stack.”
To support this transition on the technology side, HP CMS has increasingly found itself partnering with network equipment providers (NEPs). The NEPs, he says, are more frequently coming to the company for standard hardware gear, which they use to write their solutions on top and deliver to customers.
There are specific places in the core network, he says, where the NEPs are realising they don’t compete as well against the likes of HP: “The NEPs want to climb up the stack towards IP, and as they’re doing that they’re finding they need us more.”
In terms of which regions have reacted fastest to the new opportunities presented by unified communications, Edland points his finger firmly on the map at South Korea.
The country’s jump to high-speed broadband and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), he believes, could prove to be a leading example to the rest of the world: “It’s put the country in an interesting position to influence the way that networks can deliver in the future,” he says. “I can see the country being hugely influential when all these new and emerging standards become implemented.”
He cites the example of OpenFlow; a communications protocol that allows access to the forwarding plane of a network switch or router over the network. HP has been a strong advocate of OpenFlow in the US, but it is South Korea he says that is now on the cusp of standardising the protocol. “A lot of the creation behind OpenFlow happened here in the states but South Korea is really driving that now,” he says.
South Korea has plans to connect every household in the country to the internet at one gigabit per second by the end of 2012. It’s an ambition that Edlund supports, but it’s also a service he hopes to experience in his own home town.
A Kansas City resident, Edlund is encouraging his friends and neighbours to register online for Google’s ultra-fast internet/TV service. If he succeeds, Google will roll out fibre to his home as part of its latest fibre infrastructure project.
“We had a carrier that came into the Kansas City area and bought up a load of land rights and built a huge MPLS network. Well now all of a sudden, before they’ve even deployed it to the customers, Google is offering one gigabit Ethernet. It completely changes the rules,” he says.
The game changers
Along with his previously stated support for SDN, Edlund believes machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, as well as big data and analytics, will be the major game changing technologies for carriers.
Big data, as its name implies, is a collection of data sets so huge and complex that it can be awkward to handle with hard database management tools.
Edlund, however, believes once that is unlocked through analytics there is going to be a glut of information available that wasn’t available before: “The CSPs have a tonne of data they are already sitting on that they haven’t yet turned into information. I see that as one of the great spaces where they can go – to try and transfer that data into information and use it to differentiate themselves from OTT players.”
It means carriers could one day gain a clearer insight on their customers and translate it into an enhanced service experience they can’t get anywhere else - or rather from an OTT.
Edlund surprisingly likens opportunities in the M2M market as similar to those originally presented to carriers with SMS: “The business model isn’t that different from SMS – the transactions, the data payloads are small, they’re not very network disruptive, and they’re pretty margin rich. With all these billions of machines connecting up and all these data flows, they can make some new money.”
History: With over 30 years’ experience in telecoms and IT, HP is helping CSPs and network equipment suppliers adapt to a historic change in which hundreds of millions of mobile, fixed and broadband subscribers now have almost unlimited choice.
CTO: Jeff Edlund is the CTO of HP’s CMS business unit. Jeff previously served as CTO for HP’s Communications Media & Entertainment field sales organisation assigned to Sprint.
During the 1990s Jeff was technical team leader of the telecoms practice at Compaq and Tandem, also serving the needs of Sprint. In the 1980s Jeff learned his technical and customer relations skills as a field service engineer for digital equipment.
Solutions: HP provides a range of telecoms software solutions supported by global professional services. HP offerings also include a complete set of lifecycle services, such as business consulting, implementation, management and full outsourcing.
HP delivers solutions for network infrastructure, service creation and delivery, OSS, BSS, cloud, and digital media. HP utilises its own solutions – as well as the technologies of more than 500 partners. HP offers a full line of carrier-grade hardware with multiple OSs.
Services: HP CMS’ service offerings are grouped around three primary areas of transformation: customer information, OSS transformation and applications and cloud enablement.