Oh Carrier Man, Where You Gonna Run To? (For Your MANO)

David Snow
David Snow

When it comes to the management and network orchestration (MANO) of emerging NFV-based telco architectures, the choice of a vendor is certainly not a “no-brainer.” Of course, no self-respecting carrier should ever make vendor selection a “no-brainer,” but when it comes to MANO, the number of potential candidate companies is increasing all the time.

To make the point, let’s start from perhaps one of the simplest network vendor selection processes: RAN. It’s simple (note: I didn’t say easy) because all mobile carriers know who could supply their RAN and the candidate list is fairly short. RAN is definitely in the “network” space and only a few, high-profile network suppliers have RAN portfolios on offer. See? Simple.

Now let’s think about managing a network using OSS: the supplier list starts to lengthen because OSS is an “IT” system managing the “network.” So, you also have to add in the IT guys. Some of the network guys are IT guys too, but you also have to include the IT guys who are not network guys (h/t Donald Rumsfeld). Carriers know about the network and IT players get involved in the network all the time, although sometimes this leads to CTO/CIO conflicts. So far, so good, right?

Now that that’s clear, start to virtualize the carrier network on data center servers using NFV and you’re into a new ball game altogether. You’re adding more “IT” (those servers have their own vendor list, but we’ll ignore that for now; they’ll pop up again later) and, more importantly – now step back for a moment and look – your telco network is now a very, very large “enterprise” network, albeit with attached “network” communications links. This means you should really start to add enterprise networking companies into the mix. Okay, okay, I hear you object: what about the “5 nines versus 3 nines” issue? Yes, I understand that, but what enterprise networks may lack in high availability today (and I’m not sure that’s always the case; just think of large financial networks) to my mind is offset by years and years of experience in data center-based architectures and application delivery that most conventional telco “network” companies just don’t have.

Now that we’ve established that you need IT to make your network more enterprise-like, while still remaining thoroughly carrier-grade, let’s add some MANO to pull the whole lot together. Here’s where the carrier’s vendor selection list becomes “all of the above” plus a few more new companies like, for example, Tail-f, which hit the headlines in February by being selected by AT&T as one of its Domain 2.0 partners. So, the MANO list keeps on lengthening… and that’s why it’s so interesting; MANO is attracting companies from all over the ICT marketplace which are rising to the challenge, each from their own home technology sector, and bringing their much-needed competencies to the table.

So how might carriers approach their initial MANO vendor choices? As ever, it will depend on the individual carrier, but a few logical deductions can be made as to how things will likely pan out:

  • Carriers intending to move to NFV at a conservative, step-by-step pace will stay with their existing OSS vendor (which could be from either the network or IT side); they’ll want to ensure that telco network-based services and telco cloud-based services are managed and orchestrated together.
  •  Carriers already delivering cloud-based services to their enterprise customers out of their own data centers may well veer towards their enterprise and IT suppliers; after all, many of the early application layer candidates for NFV treatment are not “network-intensive” and don’t require highly sophisticated MANO.
  •  Finally, new carriers, OTT companies, and even digital startups within existing carriers, which have the advantage of working from a clean slate, could go straight to brand new vendors and show everyone just how MANO/NFV can really be done when not held back by any kind of legacy infrastructure.

That makes for a diverse vendor mix; we’re in for an interesting ride — and that’s just MANO 1.0.

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