Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed a massive transformation in the telecom industry with a shift away from proprietary, expensive IT equipment in favour of standard, cost-efficient computing blocks.
Software and Cloud rule
Thanks to these open standards, multiple virtual machines and multiple operating systems could be managed on a single, physical IT platform, which enabled software virtualisation. Now, enterprises could quickly update and upgrade networking functions without the need for expensive hardware swaps. This delivered increased flexibility, speed to market, agility and cost-reduction – all critical factors in an increasingly competitive, global market.
Today, this software trend continues apace. Business leaders are increasingly asking their IT teams to revamp existing solutions in favour of software-and cloud-centric approaches with virtualisation initiatives like software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) proving particularly popular.
A hardware strategy is still required
I believe that all these developments are hugely positive. However, it’s not an “either/or” scenario. In my book, hardware and software need to be part of a single over-arching strategy with hardware regarded as a critically important component in its own right. As the world swings towards disaggregated white boxes, I believe that more than ever, Network Equipment Providers (NEPs) and System Integrators (SIs) need a hardware approach that will deliver value while still supporting their customers’ NFV initiatives.
NFV is not all about software
After all, a true NFV solution needs a hardware ecosystem, featuring servers, storage, switches and networking. Due to bandwidth, latency and security issues, not everything can and will go to the Cloud. With 5G, and the proliferation of mobile phone and IoT devices together with the growth of high content delivery services, edge computing and IoT Edge Gateways will become increasingly important, particularly for analysis. This all points back to the importance of having the right hardware approach to set you up for success over the longer-term.
When you have questions, who better to ask than the people directly at the coal face? And so, together with Intel, we commissioned AvidThink to conduct research and speak with leading telecom providers to understand current best practices in hardware strategy and likely future trends. Hot off the press, the report makes for interesting reading.
Three NEP solutions
From the core to the edge, the report confirms that NEPs need a strategy for handling hardware integration for Communication Service Providers (CSPs) and enterprises. In general, providers indicate that they will consume NEP solutions in one of three ways:
- As tightly-integrated software and hardware stacks — even if the underlying platform is x86-based. This does not preclude the NEP from creating integrated bundles and, in some cases, these appliances could have built-in elements of hardware acceleration.
- As pure software solutions, independent of the underlying hardware in a fully disaggregated scheme. This model sees CSPs deciding on the NFV infrastructure first and expecting the NEP software to execute seamlessly on the platform of choice.
- In a hybrid approach, where the NEP provides soft-integration or pre-integration stacks with their software functions pre-certified on a specific supplier’s hardware platform.
All the indicators are that all three formats will persist for some time and across all locations: data center, mobile edge, and enterprise WAN edge with different locations likely to favor one format over powered by Intel® Xeon® Scalable processor
Hybrid – the best of both worlds
However, according to the report, the consensus is that a hybrid or soft-integration approach can reduce risk and provide benefits to all members in the value chain. In this configuration, NEPs would offer pre-integrated or pre-certified solution stacks to their customers. These are different from the branded, tightly-integrated appliances that were typical in many NEP solutions.
Instead, the hybrid format would see the NEP work with one or more hardware partners to ensure that their software solutions work well on specific platforms. These platforms could be uCPEs, single servers, or a full rack of servers.
Faster time to market and reduced risk
It’s true that in the past, system integrators performed similar tasks, putting together solutions by loading, integrating, and testing software on server platforms. However, and here’s the important point, this new hybrid approach involves moving these activities upstream in the value chain.
This research report shows that if you’re a NEP being pushed to become a purely software vendor, taking a hybrid strategy will deliver faster time to market, reduced risk during deployment, faster troubleshooting, and optimized performance.
Adopting this strategy can also prepare you for the goal of delivering a fully disaggregated platform. A hybrid approach, coupled with the right hardware partner, ensures that you can provide end users with time savings, convenience, and the peace of mind that comes with a pre-integrated, pre-certified software and hardware stack.
As the world marches toward software-defined infrastructure and the industry ideal of disaggregation, it’s important to remember that these functions are still dependent on specific hardware platforms. I believe that a hybrid model that is future ready, open and democratized represents the best of both worlds.
What’s your take on the market and the best hardware strategy? Do you have insights to share? We would love to hear your comments and questions.
Learn more about the research! Read the full report here.
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