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Supercharging data centre fabrics for the NetOps era

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Wim Henderickx

The rise of 5G is leading to new demands on data centre and edge cloud infrastructure, creating the need for new, agile and automated networks. Wim Henderickx, head of IP technology and architecture at Nokia, explains how the vendor is seeking to address this with its new Adaptive Cloud Networking solution.

The 5G era is creating multiple new and unpredictable demands on networks, pushing the limits of existing data centre fabrics and edge cloud infrastructures. Along with these trends, cloud-native systems – based on dynamic environments built in the cloud – are altering the landscape further and creating demand for greater agility and scalability in service providers’ network clouds.

This is leading to a need to adapt the model for data centres and the networks that connect them to fulfil today’s needs for cloud infrastructure.

“If you look at these worlds, they are coming together,” says Wim Henderickx, head of IP technology and architecture at Nokia. “The network is basically getting surrounded by clouds and needs to adapt to accommodate the requirements coming from them.”

Henderickx explains that a lot has been happening in the data centre and IT world with moves towards cloud-native operations and the deployment of DevOps models, but such approaches have not yet been so widely adopted in the networking space. Much of the DevOps focus has also been on application development and management, leading to the question of what the role of networking is in this new cloud-oriented world.

NetOps and Adaptive Cloud Networking

However, a NetOps era is emerging, in which service providers are being equipped with new tools and capabilities to transform their networks, enabling them to boost their efficiency and productivity in this environment, along with augmenting service revenue and ARPU.

Nokia is aiming to put itself at the heart of this transition. As a big step to support this goal, the vendor launched its Adaptive Cloud Networking solution at the Mobile World Congress in early March, aimed at enhancing the cloud networks of service providers by making them consumable, agile and automated. As Nokia puts it, this helps to “supercharge” providers’ data centre fabric and extend their operations to edge clouds.

The solution leverages the vendor’s Data Center Fabric offering, which makes data centre switching and cloud environments easier to scale, adapt and operate. This includes Nokia’s SR Linux network operating system (NOS) and Fabric Services System – which enables data centre fabric management and automation – as well as its 7220 and 7250 Interconnect Router (IXR) data-centre-switching platforms.

On top of that, through use of Nokia’s newly launched Edge Network Controller, Adaptive Cloud Networking automates the lifecycle management of edge clouds, which are rapidly gaining traction as a means for delivering applications closer to end users and thus reducing latency. The solution also wraps in the vendor’s Network Services Platform (NSP), enabling programmable and automated connectivity between data-centre fabrics, edge clouds and everything in between across the wide area network (WAN).

Triple prongs

The combination of these three key facets – data-centre fabric, edge cloud automation and the automated connectivity of applications across the WAN – is central to networking needs in today’s environment and can help meet the demands of rigorous service level agreements (SLAs) that applications can carry, explains Henderickx.

“It’s about having these central clouds combined with these more distributed edge clouds, making a seamless experience across the network, and bringing this all together to deliver those stringent SLA requirements that some of these applications have,” says Henderickx.

Network operators are starting to move in this direction, he says, with players at different stages of implementation and process changes. Henderickx adds that Nokia initiated the approach a few years ago, when it was obvious that the consumption of the network had to change. With the adoption of 5G, this has accelerated.

“You get a platter of new services and capabilities,” says Henderickx. “Given that all these services are coming together, you start having to support all of that on a common network infrastructure.

“We want to blend the cloud and the networking together in order to deliver those types of services to the customer, and do that such that they can use the same tool suites that they have been used to from the IT side. That also allows us to make the connection between clouds and networks more seamless.”

The ultimate goal of all this, says Henderickx, is to achieve real “network-as-a-service” – with the aim of evolving the service over time to bring in more use cases and capabilities, depending on customer requirements.

Evolution, not revolution

Another key aspect of Adaptive Cloud Networking is that it aims for an evolution rather than revolution in current methods, explains Henderickx. This means that it allows adaptation to new capabilities over time rather than the need to rip up systems and start again.

“Rather than coming up with a completely disruptive approach, we want to say, ‘let’s evolve what we have and bring in these capabilities such that you can accommodate them’,” says Henderickx. “Then you don’t have to change the whole operation of your own infrastructure – you can actually start piece by piece.”

The elements that Nokia has incorporated in the system allow customers to take this approach, while the platform is also using systems that are already familiar from the IT world to ease the pathway towards this transition.

“What we basically did is say, ‘OK, let’s look at the IT side and let’s add the networking world into it’, rather than what has happened a lot of times in the past – which is ‘let’s change to a new paradigm’.”

Meanwhile, Henderickx describes the way that Adaptive Cloud Networking was developed to meet the needs of a distributed edge cloud architecture. “We are of the belief that it has to be centrally managed, but loosely coupled and distributed,” he says. “As such, the Edge Network Controller component is a very lightweight element that lives inside these clouds and brings these cloud-native operations.”

The controller is based on open-source automation and the orchestration system within Kubernetes, which has been on the rise and has helped Nokia to create the kind of cloud-native operations it is seeking through the vendor bringing components inside the Kubernetes environment.

Opportunities at the edge

Adaptive Cloud Networking can also be used in combination with Nokia’s new Edge Slicing service to open up fresh opportunities for service providers to generate value for enterprises. With network slicing promising new use cases for industrial environments, from factories to transportation, Edge Slicing provides a platform that helps operators to offer flexible, high-performance virtual private network services over 4G and 5G networks.

This ability to combine Adaptive Cloud Networking with such 5G-enabled cutting-edge functions is an example of how the service slots in with the requirements of today’s new wave of technologies, as well as the need to update current data centre fabrics and architectures.

Such platforms also open up opportunities in areas such as digital twinning for networks, says Henderickx, plus new approaches to automation and general operation of systems learned from the IT side. “All of these types of capabilities that you typically have in the IT side you could easily apply to the network,” he adds.

The evolution of adaptive cloud networking will comprise a step-by-step approach over time, especially because automation is not yet in the mindset of everyone even though they accept its importance in the long run, says Henderickx. The way it develops will take shape as things move along, he adds. “Of course, there will be things that we see and learn along the way that we need to add and adopt,” he says.

But the key is having those foundations in place to begin with to meet the need for evolving data centre fabrics and cloud-native designs, as Nokia has established with Adaptive Cloud Networking. And the exciting thing is the big potential that still remains for future evolution.

“We are at the start of a big transformation in networking and there’s still quite a bit of work to do, but the foundation is there,” says Henderickx. “This is fundamental to evolve from where we are today.”

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