September 28, 2016

Ericsson: The Journey to a DevOps Future in SDN

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Santiago Rodriguez
The way we build our networks is transforming, said Ericsson's Santiago Rodriguez, in his Tuesday keynote at OpenDaylight Summit.

There are big transformations going on in the world today that are driving rapid changes to the business of networks, said Santiago Rodriguez, VP of Engineering and head of the product development unit SDN & Policy Control at Ericsson, in his keynote Tuesday at OpenDaylight Summit.    

“Society is transforming, the way we do business is transforming, and accordingly the way we build our networks is transforming,” Rodriguez said.

The three pillars of this network transformation include: 5G, virtualization and open source.

5G, the next generation mobile standard, has been promised to be the biggest innovation in mobile networking since the first cellular handset. Interestingly, Rodriguez noted that it took 120 years for the fixed (or wired) telephony market to reach 1 billion subscribers.  In only the last 20 years, the number of mobile subscriptions has ballooned to more than 10 billion consumer devices and more than 7 billion machines. Concurrently, the number of devices in each home is growing rapidly as well.  If you count all the smartphones, laptops, tablets, and TVs in the home and then add the growing number of IoT devices, the number of network devices in an average home is exceeding 15 to 20 and is expected to continue to grow.

To make things more challenging, the requirements are widely disparate.  Some devices, such as home energy sensors, require small amounts of power and generate small amounts of data volumes, yet there are millions of them.  Other devices and applications, such as a telemedicine, require ultra-low latency, extreme availability, and must be highly reliable with full redundancies built in.  These disparities in performance characteristics add complexities and challenges to the service providers and to the vendor community and are requiring both to re-think how networks are built.

Rodriguez described the transformation in virtualization as “SDN-enabled NFV and Cloud Infrastructure.”  SDN gives you the connectivity required and is used for cross-domain control, orchestration and management. Then you have NFV for virtual network functions and Cloud for scaling network functions and enabling optimal deployments.  The key across virtualization is the need for automation, which he noted is critical to cope with the proliferation of devices.

The third pillar is open source.  Ericsson joined OpenDayLight, the open source SDN platform and a Linux Foundation project, at the beginning and has been an active participant in the community.  They have also joined more than 15 other open source initiatives.  In each, the company is taking the same approach:  Join early and participate actively.  With close to four years of experience with ODL and other open source projects, they’ve learned a few things.  Rodriguez noted three of them.   They are:

  1. Upstream First

  2. There’s a Bigger Picture

  3. The User Matters

Ericsson takes a module-by-module approach when using open source.  In some cases, the module may not be required so it’s dropped, and in other cases the module may not be sufficiently mature and Ericsson will enhance it internally.  They may also look at a module and determine that they can do it better, and lastly, they demand the ability to add their own new modules.  It was unclear in which cases they donate the code back to the community.   This approach requires them to take what he called an “upstream first” approach so they can be confident that future releases of the open source in question doesn’t render the previous customizations obsolete or redundant.

The “bigger picture” refers to the open source community as a whole.  Carrier networks are vast and complex with numerous features and functions required on an end-to-end basis.   There isn’t a single open source project that does it all.  Hence, Ericsson joining and participating in numerous open source projects is important.  In many cases, Rodriguez noted, for a given standard there are multiple open source projects implementing the same standard.   Standardization is required to drive interoperability and predictability.

And his third lesson: usability is paramount to success.  When determining whether software is usable they look at the quality of the code, the performance, the upgradability and the robustness.  Rodriguez noted that at the onset of an open source project there is a push for many features.  When first released, the feature-rich code will not get adopted since it lacks in usability.  The key, he noted, is “good enough features” with “good enough usability.”  That’s when the technology will go mainstream.

In the OpenDaylight community, Rodriguez noted that users and developers are working closely together in the DevOps tradition. The benefit of this approach is developers get immediate feedback from users and they can then modify their products based on what the user actually needs.

In his keynote, Rodriguez wanted the audience to have three “take-aways” to assist with their journey to a DevOps future.  First, this is happening now.  Ericsson is shipping and deploying products based on ODL to customers around the globe “as we speak.”  Second, this future is based on open source and ODL is part of a bigger ecosystem.  Third, usability is the most important aspect for open source success. He then concluded with a reminder that we are all part of the networked society.

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