GSMA, ETSI, etc. have been defining standards for the telecom world for years. However outside of the telecom industry these standards have found little or no adoption. In a world where telecom operators are fast becoming bit pipes, do we really need telecom standards? Why can’t the telecom industry just use SIP, WebRTC, REST, etc. just like everybody else?
The current systems in telecom are assuming calls and SMS need to be billed for. What would happen if the starting point is: data insights, network apps and connectivity are the only things that are billed? Connectivity is likely going to be unlimited or with very high limits over time. New revenue would have to come from selling data insights, either individually with consent, or aggregated and anonymised. As well as from apps that run inside the network: on CPEs, DSLAMs, mobile base stations, etc. So for the purpose of this blog let’s focus on a world where calls and SMS can no longer be charged for and connectivity is close to unlimited for most normal use cases. To move bits fast through a network, you want the least number of protocol converters. So using many different standards would make things slow and expensive. Additionally telecom operators have overpaid for lots of standards and their software support during years without ever using them. Finally implementing a standard is very costly because often only 20% of the functionality is really used, but the other 80% needs to be there to pass compliance tests.
The nonstandard or empty networking appliance
In a world where software can define networks and any missing functionality is just a networking app away, it would be a lot better to start from an empty networking appliance, i.e. networking hardware without software, and then to buy everything you need. If you need a standard then you might want to buy the minimal/light, equals 20%, implementation and see if you can live with it. Chances are you still have too many functions that are not used. Facebook open sourced its top of the rack networking solution and surprise, surprise, the interface is Thrift based. Thrift is used in all the other Facebook services to have a standard high throughput interface for all its software services. Google probably uses protocol buffers. Apache Avro would be another alternative and the most openly licensed of them all. So instead of focusing on a standard, it would be better to standardise on a highly throughput optimised interface technology instead of public slow standards. Inside a telecom operator this would work very efficient and for those systems that talk to legacy or outside world systems, adding a standard is just a networking app away. This would simplify a telecom network substantially, saving enormous costs and accelerating speed of change because less code needs to be written and maintained making integrations easier. These are all ideas that assume there are actual appliances that are software defined. As soon as general purpose compute becomes fast enough for heavy data plane traffic then the reality will be software defined networking in a virtualized way with autoscaling and all the other cloud goodies. However this reality is still some years off, unfortunately. In the short run virtualization of the control plane and software defined networking appliances [SDNA] for the data plane, is the most realistic option…
The cloud is revolutionising IT. However there are two sides to every story: the winners and the losers. Who are they going to be and why? If you can’t wait here are the losers: HP, Oracle, Dell, SAP, RedHat, Infosys, VMWare, EMC, Cisco, etc. Survivors: IBM, Accenture, Intel, Apple, etc. Winners: Amazon, Salesforce, Google, CSC, Workday, Canonical, Metaswitch, Microsoft, ARM, ODMs.
Now the question is why and is this list written in stone?
What has cloud changed?
If you are working in a hardware business (storage, networking, etc. is also included) then cloud computing is a value destroyer. You have an organisation that is assuming small, medium and large enterprises have and always will run their own data centre. As such you have been blown out of the water by the fact that cloud has changed this fundamental rule. All of a sudden Amazon, Google and Facebook go and buy specialised webscale hardware from your suppliers, the ODMs. Facebook all of a sudden open sources hardware, networking, rack and data centre designs and makes it that anybody can compete with you. Cloud is all about scale out and open source hence commodity storage, software defined networks and network virtualisation functions are converting your portfolio in commodity products. If you are an enterprise software vendor then you always assumed that companies will buy an instance of your product, customise it and manage it themselves. You did not expect that software can be offered as a service and that one platform can offer individual solutions to millions of enterprises. You also did not expect that software can be sold by the hour instead of licensed forever. If you are an outsourcing company then you assume that companies that have invested in customising Siebel will want you to run this forever and not move to Salesforce.
Reviewing the losers
HP’s Cloud Strategy
HP has been living from printers and hardware. Meg rightfully has taken the decision to separate the cashcow, stop subsidising other less profitable divisions and let it be milked till it dies. The other group will focus on Cloud, Big Data, etc. However HP Cloud is more expensive and slower moving than any of the big three so economies of scale will push it into niche areas or make it die. HP’s OpenStack is a product that came 2-3 years late to the market. A market as we will see later that is about to be commoditised. HP’s Big Data strategy? Overpay for Vertica and Autonomy and focus your marketing around the lawsuits with former owners, not any unique selling proposition. Also Big Data can only be sold if you have an open source solution that people can test. Big Data customers are small startups that quickly have become large dotcoms. Most enterprises would not know what to do with Hadoop even if they could download it for free [YES you can actually download it for free!!!].
Oracle’s Cloud Strategy
Oracle has been denying Cloud existed until their most laggard customer started asking questions. Until very recently you could only buy Oracle databases by the hour from Amazon. Oracle has been milking the enterprise software market for years and paying surprise visits to audit your usage of their database and send you an unexpected bill. Recently they have started to cloud-wash [and Big Data wash] their software portfolio but Salesforce and Workday already are too far ahead to catch them. A good Christmas book Larry could buy from Amazon would be “The Innovator’s Dilemma“.
Dell’s Cloud Strategy
Go to the main Dell page and you will not find the word Big Data or Cloud. I rest my case.
SAP’s Cloud Strategy
Workday is working hard on making SAP irrelevant. Salesforce overtook Siebel. Workday is likely to do the same with SAP. People don’t want to manage their ERP themselves.
RedHat’s Cloud Strategy
[I work for their biggest competitor] RedHat salesperson to its customers: There are three versions. Fedora if you need innovation but don’t want support. CentOS if you want free but no security updates. RHEL is expensive and old but with support. Compare this to Canonical. There is only one Ubuntu, it is innovative, free to use and if you want support you can buy it extra.
For Cloud the story is that RedHat is three times cheaper than VMWare and your old stuff can be made to work as long as you want it according to a prescribed recipe. Compare this with an innovator that wants to completely commoditise OpenStack [ten times cheaper] and bring the most innovative and flexible solution [any SDN, any storage, any hypervisor, etc.] that instantly solves your problems [deploy different flavours of OpenStack in minutes without needing any help].
Infosys or any outsourcing company
If the data centre is going away then the first thing that will go away is that CRM solution we bought in the 90’s from a company that no longer exists.
For the company that brought virtualisation into the enterprise it is hard to admit that by putting a rest API in front of it, you don’t need their solution in each enterprise any more.
Commodity storage means that scale out storage can be offered at a fraction of the price of a regular EMC SAN solution. However the big killer is Amazon’s S3 that can give you unlimited storage in minutes without worries.
A Cisco router is an extremely expensive device that is hard to manage and build on top of proprietary hardware, a proprietary OS and proprietary software. What do you think will happen in a world where cheap ASIC + commodity CPU, general purpose OS and many thousands of network apps from an app store become available? Or worse, a network will no longer need many physical boxes because most of it is virtualised.
What does a cloud loser mean?
A cloud loser means that their existing cash cows will be crunched by disruptive innovations. Does this mean that losers will disappear or can not recuperate? Some might disappear. However if smart executives in these losing companies would be given the freedom to bring to market new solutions that build on top of the new reality then they might come out stronger. IBM has shown they were able to do so many times.
Let’s look at the cloud survivors.
IBM has shown over and over again that it can reinvent itself. It sold its x86 servers in order to show its employees and the world that the future is no longer there. In the past it bought PWC’s consultancy which will keep on reinventing new service offerings for customers that are lost in the cloud.
Just like PWC’s consultancy arm within IBM, Accenture will have consultants that help people make the transition from data centre to the cloud. Accenture will not be leading the revolution but will be a “me-to” player that can put more people faster than others.
X86 is not going to die soon. The cloud just means others will be buying it. Intel will keep on trying to innovate in software and go nowhere [e.g. Intel’s Hadoop was going to eat the world] but at least its processors will keep it above the water.
Apple knows what consumers want but they still need to prove they understand enterprises. Having a locked-in world is fine for consumers but enterprises don’t like it. Either they come up with a creative solution or the billions will not keep on growing.
What does a cloud survivor mean?
A cloud survivor means that the key cash cows will not be killed by the cloud. It does not give a guarantee that the company will grow. It just means that in this revolution, the eye of the tornado rushed over your neighbours house, not yours. You can still have lots of collateral damage…
IaaS = Amazon. No further words needed. Amazon will extend Gov Cloud into Health Cloud, Bank Cloud, Energy Cloud, etc. and remove the main laggard’s argument: “for legal & security reasons I can’t move to the cloud”. Amazon currently has 40-50 Anything-as-a-Service offerings in 36 months they will have 500.
PaaS & SaaS = Salesforce. Salesforce will become more than a CRM on steroids, it will be the world’s business solutions platform. If there is no business solution for it on Salesforce then it is not a business problem worth solving. They are likely to buy competitors like Workday.
Google is the king of the consumer cloud. Google Apps has taken the SME market by storm. Enterprise cloud is not going anywhere soon however. Google was too late with IaaS and is not solving on-premise transitional problems unlike its competitors. With Kubernetes Google will re-educate the current star programmers and over time will revolutionise the way software is written and managed and might win in the long run. Google’s cloud future will be decided in 5-10 years. They invented most of it and showed the world 5 years later in a paper.
CSC has moved away from being a bodyshop to having several strategic important products for cloud orchestration and big data. They have a long-term future focus, employing cloud visionaries like Simon Wardley, that few others match. You don’t win a cloud war in the next quarter. It took Simon 4 years to take Ubuntu from 0% to 70% on public clouds.
What Salesforce did to Oracle’s Siebel, Workday is doing to SAP. Companies that have bought into Salesforce will easily switch to Workday in phase 2.
Since RedHat is probably reading this blog post, I can’t be explicit. But a company of 600 people that controls up to 70% of the operating systems on public clouds, more than 50% of OpenStack, brings out a new server OS every 6 months, a phone OS in the next months, a desktop every 6 months, a complete cloud solution every 6 months, can convert bare-metal into virtual-like cloud resources in minutes, enables anybody to deploy/integrate/scale any software on any cloud or bare-metal server [Intel, IBM Power 8, ARM 64] and is on a mission to completely commoditise cloud infrastructure via open source solutions in 2015 deserves to make it to the list.
Metaswitch has been developing network software for the big network guys for years. These big network guys would put it in a box and sell it extremely expensive. In a world of commodity hardware, open source and scale out, Clearwater and Calico have catapulted Metaswitch to the list of most innovative telecom supplier. Telecom providers will be like cloud providers, they will go to the ODM that really knows how things work and will ignore the OEM that just puts a brand on the box. The Cloud still needs WAN networks. Google Fibre will not rule the world in one day. Telecom operators will have to spend their billions with somebody.
If you are into Windows you will be on Azure and it will be business as usual for Microsoft.
In an ODM dominated world, ARM processors are likely to move from smart phones into network and into cloud.
Nobody knows them but they are the ones designing everybody’s hardware. Over time Amazon, Google and Microsoft might make their own hardware but for the foreseeable future they will keep on buying it “en masse” from ODMs.
What does a cloud winner mean?
Billions and fame for some, large take-overs or IPOs for others. But the cloud war is not over yet. It is not because the first battles were won that enemies can’t invent new weapons or join forces. So the war is not over, it is just beginning. History is written today…
Quagga might remind a little majority of people of an extint African zebra. However Quagga is also the name of an open source project that focuses on the future of networking. It is one of the projects that is being boosted by Google push for Open Source Networking. Google has joined hands with the Internet Systems Consortium to found Open Source Routing. Open Source Routing focuses on bringing Open Source solutions for Openflow, Software-defined networking and other technologies that are needed in today’s Webscale networking. Google also is pushing the ALTO protocol in order to improve quality of service for P2P and more importantly content delivery networks.
Google’s dream is to do the same with networking at it did with servers. Buy cheap commodity hardware and make resilient systems via software solutions. This strategy is directly in conflict with companies like Cisco or Juniper that focus on expensive proprietary hardware solutions. Google is trying to find cheap hardware in order to install Open vSwitch and other similar software on it.
Telecom operators and solution providers are wise to evaluate participating in the Open Source Routing effort. Verizon is one of the pioneers in trying out Openflow and the benefits it can have for carriers. Expect a lot of innovation from companies without a big brand to come in the coming months, examples could be bigswitch, fastly, pica8, etc.
Hadoop has run into architectural limitations and the community has started working on the Next Generation Hadoop [NGN Hadoop]. NGN Hadoop has some new management features of which multi-tenant application management is the major one. However the key change is that MapReduce no longer is entangled inside the rest of Hadoop. This will allow Hadoop to be used for MPI, Machine Learning, Master-Worker, Iterative Processing, Graph Processing, etc. New tools to better manage Hadoop are also being incubated, e.g. Ambari and HCatalog.
Why is this important for telecom?
Having one platform that allows massive data storage, peta-byte data analytics, complex parallel computations, large-scale machine learning, big data map reduce processing, etc. all in one multi-tenant set-up means that telecom operators could see massive reductions in their architecture costs together with faster go-to-market, better data intelligence, etc.
Telecom applications, that are redesigned around this new paradigm, can all use one shared back-office architecture. Having data centralized into one large Hadoop cluster instead of tens or hundreds of application-specific databases, will enable unseen data analytics possibilities and bring much-needed efficiencies.
What is needed is that several large operators define this approach as their standard architecture hence telecom solution providers will start incorporating it into their solutions. Commercial support can be easily acquired from companies like Hortonworks, Cloudera, etc.
Having one shared data architecture and multi-tenant application virtualization in the form of a Telco PaaS would allow third-parties to launch new services quickly and cheaply, think days in stead of years…