The cloud: making networks more liquid
By Dimitri Diliani, Head of Africa Region for Nokia Siemens Networks
The move towards cloud computing is accelerating, and its use presents communications service providers and networking companies new opportunities for flexibility in capacity management, as well as new revenue opportunities. How will the move towards the cloud affect networks?
The concept of cloud computing has been around since the 1960s. However, only recently has it reached a tipping point of adoption. With newly announced cloud products from leading companies and freely available Web-access software, momentum is building and cloud computing has become a multibillion-dollar industry.
From the network infrastructure companies' point of view, movement to the cloud presents a number of intriguing opportunities. Chief among them is the ability to become more flexible and deliver network bandwidth when and where it is needed. “Telecoms operators are currently being squeezed, because they need to constantly adapt their networks according to ever-changing content and capacity demands - rapid smartphone adoption and video over networks are just two of the latest examples,” says Dimitri Diliani, Head of Africa Region for Nokia Siemens Networks. “The need for increased capacity is not rising at the same rate as revenue, and this imbalance is pressuring operators. There is a solution to this problem, and a lot of it can be found in the cloud.”
Preparing for multiple futures
“The world continues to go mobile. Our latest estimates show that total mobile broadband traffic may increase up to a thousand-fold by 2020. This figure assumes a tenfold increase in broadband mobile subscribers and up to 100 times higher traffic per user (more than 1Gbyte/sub/day), with smartphones, combined with users' hunger for more applications, experiencing the fastest growth,” states Diliani. Characteristics such as availability and quality of service are taking on new levels of importance. Since users are employing different technologies - such as 3G, LTE, and WiFi - while staying on the move, operators have additional challenges.
The current estimates of traffic are substantially higher than they were just one year ago. This is a real issue when it comes to capital investment in the network, since no one can predict the future with certainty, even in the short-term. Operators may ask: “How can I possibly run my business if I don't know what is coming my way?”
“In my view, the answer is that people and companies need to prepare for multiple futures, multiple outcomes. Preparing for multiple futures sounds like an impossible task. But, really it is about flexibility, about the ability to adapt. In the world of telecoms operators, up until now, this has been a nearly impossible task. Networks have been big, monolithic and highly inflexible... and adapting to change could be a process of years, not days or months,” continues Diliani.
“Operators everywhere feel the pressure to address this challenge. In fact, in a regular survey of our operator customers, one issue was of over-riding importance: network efficiency. Some 36% of respondents wanted to achieve higher network performance; this was clearly their number one concern,” Diliani reiterates.
Making the network 'liquid'
“At Nokia Siemens Networks, we have developed what we call a 'liquid' approach to the network, which has the potential to unleash unused capacity - drawing on pools of capacity from across existing networks to form a reservoir of resources that flow to fill unpredictable demand, wherever and whenever people use broadband,” explains Diliani.
In traditional network design, the elements are fixed and cannot be redeployed easily. However, applying cloud principles to connectivity can greatly increase the efficiency of the network. A cloud-based approach brings fluidity to the network, supporting the ebb and flow of service demand over time and across domains. The cloud is not a 'dedicated' resource, but is infinitely adaptable. Cloud principles drive demand-based, or logical, distribution of workloads. The cloud can help load balance between under-utilised and over-utilised networks.
Many of today's networks are actually underutilised, due to several factors: building a network for peak capacity can lead to overbuilding, and some networks are created based on traffic forecasts of increased capacity ahead of expected demand. At present, capacity in one part of the network cannot be used for peaks in other parts. Tellingly, in mobile networks, only 15% of the cells carry over half the traffic. The situation is not getting any better. Traffic mix and demand from certain geographic locations are becoming more difficult to predict. When traffic patterns change quickly, local traffic bottlenecks may arise. “The challenge for networks is to provide the required capacity flexibly and adapt to fluctuating traffic without building every element for peak demand. This is why the cloud is important,” comments Diliani.
Time and place-based demand
As broadband becomes a more important part of people's lives, demand is showing more dramatic peaks and valleys. Business districts see peak use during the working day, when residential areas show low demand. In the evenings and on weekends, the reverse is true.
Service demands are also seasonal. People travel for vacations, moving out of urban areas to the countryside. Broadband demand in cities falls, but rises in popular holiday spots for weeks at a time. Large events, whether sporting, cultural or musical, can create huge traffic peaks for a short time and in one very local spot, which needs high capacity. An operator's reputation can be damaged in a flash if its mobile broadband services fall short during a high-profile event.
Cloud services are sending more mission-critical applications over these networks at the same time that demand is becoming more broadly based, in every sense. The reach and reliability of both fixed and mobile networks is a key starting point for cloud today. In the future, successful operators must be able to meet the fluidity of broadband demand in all situations. To do that, extreme flexibility needs to be built across networks.
Solutions from cloud tooling
Cloud tooling adds capacity, flexibility, and resilience to the network. For example, resource pooling within network elements and virtualised software on common hardware increases capacity, flexibility, and utilisation. Baseband pooling in radio access helps support fluctuating traffic while increasing equipment utilisation.
Network resiliency through Base Station Sub-systems (BSS) and Mobile Softswitching (MSS) meshed resources reduces the risk of outages caused by natural catastrophes, by adding geo-redundancy and load sharing.
Cloud-based communication platforms allow event organisers to disperse event information or provide registration services for thousands of participants of larger events, without heavy investments into hardware and software. Information can be delivered via multiple channels such as SMS and e-mail.
“A simple example of how the cloud tooling can increase networking flexibility is from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. A quarter of a million fans gathered at the Bird's Nest stadium, many using cellphones, but there was 100% reliability with the network, due to MSS pooling,” explains Diliani.
In traditional networks, user peaks require spare visitor location register capacity because free capacity elsewhere cannot be redeployed. Cloud tools, such as layered platforms, shared and pooled resources, centralised and score network, liquid radio access and MSS and media gateway resiliency, give the network the flexibility to meet increased demand at any location.
Revenue opportunities for operators
The cloud can also help operators on the revenue side. As cloud service providers, operators can generate significant new revenue from services for consumers and enterprises. This includes the growing market for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications solutions for industries such as utilities, healthcare and security, which can all benefit by increasing their remote monitoring and control capabilities. With the help of these innovations they can also buy and sell spare capacity flexibly to make the most of their network assets.
“Operators are ideally positioned to become successful cloud service providers, because the network is essential to cloud, and because of the complex combination of factors that must come together to deliver a high quality experience. Cloud services need a combination of the right Internet applications, telecommunications services, and end-to-end IP connection. Operational efficiency, with scalability, is essential to the economic value proposition of cloud services to the buyers. This complex combination puts operators in an exceptionally strong position to deliver the best end-to-end experience,” says Diliani.
Operators' access to assets, such as location and status information from subscribers, also puts them in a good position within the cloud services value chain, provided they can make those assets available securely to third-party cloud service providers and developers.
Another important benefit that cloud brings, especially to users of multi-devices, is that it helps solve the challenge of portability and rendering the content in multi formats. Storing and accessing data in the cloud, which can then later be accessed via variety of devices, enables the anytime, anywhere, any device idea. Individuals today own two, four, six or more connected devices at any given time, and want access to essential content and applications. This is one way in which mobility and cloud are evolving together, bringing the computing and communications industries ever closer together.
Having the ability to adapt rapidly to changes in demand will be vital for the networking and telecommunications industries in the future. “One thing is certain: the cloud will play a key role in giving the network flexibility - an endlessly adaptable, liquid form - in a world of constantly changing technology,” concludes Diliani.
About Dimitri Diliani
* Dimitri Diliani is currently the Head of Africa Region at Nokia Siemens Networks.
* He joined Nokia in 2005.
* With about 22 years of experience in the telecommunications industry, Diliani is a leader that has experience in various fields within telecommunications. He started at Bell Labs in testing, and moved to software development, system engineering, pricing, business development and sales. In the last 11 years, he has handled the executive management of customer teams.
* After joining Nokia, Diliani managed to double the business with T-Mobile USA with high profitability. Since Nokia Siemens Networks was formed, Diliani managed to establish a sustainable profitable business with regional operators across the US, and grew the government and VAR (value-added reseller) business by more than 20%.
* Born in 1960, Diliani has a Bachelor's Degree in Engineering and a Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Mississippi. Married with two boys, he enjoys building computers, playing computer games in his spare time and travelling.