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Alcatel-Lucent pushes vision of telco-centered cloud

Vendor sees a cloud not just limited to massive data centers but as distributed as today's telephone architecture –- enabling not only computing- but communications-as-a-service as well

When one hears that Alcatel-Lucent is laying out its cloud strategy, the first reaction might be that it’s simply jumping on the bandwagon. After all, what tech vendor doesn’t have a cloud?

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But the path the telecom network equipment vendor laid out today – especially when coupled with its equally radical lightRadio wireless network vision (CP: Alcatel-Lucent new building-block architecture does away with the base station ) – is much more revolutionary that it might first appear, calling not only for telecom operators to sit squarely at the center of the still-emerging cloud ecosystem, but for the telephone network to disaggregate and virtualize its way into the cloud as well.

At the center of its new CloudBand solution is a potentially market-shifting notion: telco networks should not only provide on-ramps to the cloud, those networks can be the cloud. If cloud computing is to be truly pervasive and built and delivered utility-style, the argument goes, the cloud needs the same high performance, reliability and security upon which today’s communications networks are built, said Dor Skuler, vice president of cloud solutions at Alcatel-Lucent, in an interview.

It’s no small vision: Alcatel-Lucent’s cloud vision impacts how carriers build their networks, and how they deliver services and fit into the larger cloud “industry.”

The first goal, said Skuler, “is to allow [carriers] to fundamentally design the network using cloud technology, introducing elasticity and agility into the network. “

Rather than over-building networks for peak usage and then running them in most instances at 20% utilization or less, as they’ve done for decades, Alcatel-Lucent is proposing an architecture and approach that moves key network elements out into the cloud, where they can be accessed on demand and based on actual usage, Skor said.

ALU’s second goal is to place telcos firmly at the center of the cloud. Driving this goal was a recent survey the company did of 3500 IT decision makers, which found that their number one concern regarding the cloud wasn’t security – as often cited – but application performance. “They are looking not for a best effort cloud but a cloud with end-to-end application performance guarantees,” Skor said.

Enterprises aren’t getting that today via large, centralized data centers that are often (and most affordably) accessed via the public Internet, or at best via network services that don’t necessarily have a deep connection to the applications running over them.

“What we believe is that we need to truly connect the network and the cloud and manage cloud resources right alongside of network resources,” ALU’s Skor said. “For service providers, that means it’s not about building a big data center. Rather they can build small, distributed ‘clouds’ at central offices and exchanges. Instead of one big cloud you get a lot of little clouds connected logically via the network to look line one system.”

Alcatel-Lucent’s new CloudBand solution aims to address both of the issues the vendor brings to light: turning the communications network into a cloud, and then using that new architecture to deliver cloud services to customers.

CloudBand consist of two elements, the CloudBand Management System, which manages orchestration and optimization of services between communications networks and the cloud; and CloudBand Node, which provides (with the help of partners in some cases, such as named partner HP) the computing, storage and networking hardware “in-a-box” to help carriers host and deliver a range of cloud services.

Once such a platform is in place – and Alcatel-Lucent envisions working first with its own customers and then later potentially in multi-vendor networks – operators can start to evolve not only how they provide services, but how they run their networks as well. For instance, the platform enables carriers to virtualize critical elements of their networks – including things like subscriber databases or application and content servers – and move them out into the cloud. They can then access (and grow, if necessary) those network elements on an as-needed basis to more quickly launch new services and manage their network in a more “elastic” manner, ALU’s Skor said.

The architecture also puts key elements of a computing cloud platform (such as storage) deeper into the telco network, allowing them to deliver cloud services themselves or orchestrate the delivery of services from data centers deeper in the network – either their own infrastructure or via managed links to other cloud providers.

“The idea is that the operator can deliver enterprise cloud services alongside ‘virtual telco’ services – things like IMS services, video, SMS messaging, app stores – blended on the same platform,” Skor said, noting that Alcatel-Lucent’s lightRadio architecture takes this concept of a distributed network cloud even further, essentially “all the way down to the control plane.”

What the vendor’s cloud solution ultimately enables, Skor said, “is service providers building a completely different kind of network.”

CloudBand will be available for deployment in the first half of 2012, Alcatel-Lucent said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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