• 10/31/2017
    7:00 AM
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Enterprise Networks and Telco Clouds on a Collision Course

The internet of things will move more processing to telecom suppliers' facilities.

Networks engineers have traditionally treated networks managed by their telecom suppliers as outside their immediate domain of concern. The telco network was brought into the data center, appropriate routes or peering set up, and that was it.

Enterprise workloads typically don't run directly on telco networks for many reasons, including governance or compliance requirements. Now, emerging technologies such as the internet of things are starting to require workloads to be located within telecom service providers’ facilities.

Network latencies need to be low for many real-time IoT apps so they cannot be located far away, which creates delays in processing. Some people say it’s a limitation of the laws of physics: The speed of light is a physical limit, so if you want low latencies, the source of communication needs to be close to the destination. Examples include security systems, farm equipment (e.g., planting seeds) and vehicle control, where it’s important to coordinate GPS location data, sensor data, and other information in a timely way.

The logical place to put such processing is in the network itself, and in particular the clouds run by service providers. This makes sense if the IoT sensors connect directly to the mobile network since the distances, and therefore, the latencies are short. These telco clouds may even run within base-stations or local data centers so that there are fewer network hops between the end points and processing centers. However, if the IoT sensors connect directly to the enterprise network, then the processing belongs in the data center itself.

In the cases when processing moves to the telco cloud, network or data center admins might think they don't have to worrying about those workloads. That may not be always true.

Workloads are not always isolated in one location. Complex IoT software running in telco cloud equipment may need to integrate with traditional applications that reside in the enterprise data center, so there needs to be a secure and reliable connection between the telco cloud app and conventional applications.


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(Image: NASA-Imagery/Pixabay)

Those connections are where network administrators need to step in and apply their expertise. Apps that runs in the telco cloud are likely to be business critical, especially if they have strict latency and performance requirements, so there is an expectation that network connectivity will be reliable. Connections between data centers and the telco cloud may be tunnels such as VPNs over the internet, direct connections or whatever methods are appropriate for the workloads.

Similarly, the telco operators need to be aware that they can no longer focus on focusing on the traditional four services on their network -- voice, data, SMS and VPN. They need to deal with outside apps and workloads that may create unforeseen demands, which may lead to congestion on their network.

What are the implications for the day-to-day jobs for the network engineers? Just as they need to keep certain apps connected to a public cloud, they need to deal with another party. But the other party is an entity with deep networking roots, strong notions of reliability, and service levels far beyond what most data center staff are used to. This means that monitoring tools can help by gathering metrics that are relevant for service assurance for telco networks. It may also be necessary to ingest metrics that are exported by the telcos.

Conversely, telco network engineers need to learn to be less inward looking and become a service provider to customers who are outside their organization. They already do that for mobile virtual network operators, but those are traditional telco services resold to outside firms. This time, it is a set of external workload owners where you don’t have direct control, direct integration into the billing systems or monitoring capabilities. So not only do we need technical changes, but a change in awareness and attitude too.

In summary, the clash of enterprise data center networks and telco clouds will come soon, led by IoT developments. The major telco cloud systems providers such as Nokia or Ericsson have systems in place, and now it’s time for enterprises to get ready.

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