Architecture powers disaggregation

We at ADVA have talked a lot about disaggregation and its importance to network modernization. But how do we ensure success when using re-aggregated components? Architecture is a big help.
Prayson Pate
Network Architecture

The importance of disaggregation: open and multi-vendor systems

My colleague Ulrich Kohn recently wrote about “The transformational force of disaggregation,” and I want to focus on one element he mentioned: architecture.

He described how telecom infrastructure is moving away from closed systems provided by a single vendor. These closed systems work, but there are drawbacks.

  • The commitment and investment for these systems is very high, so their selection is a lengthy process.
  • All components must come from the single supplier, giving them pricing power.
  • All updates to hardware and software are supplied and gated by one vendor.

The result: the systems are expensive and innovation is slow.

In contrast, disaggregation enables open and multi-vendor systems. And that leads to competition and innovation. But operators have a valid fear of the complexity of assembling disaggregated components into a working system. That’s where a clear and strong architecture can help.

In praise of standardization – and variation

Let me share with you an example of how standardization can spur innovation when there’s a solid architecture and standards provide some clear points of demarcation.

I’ve used the smartphone as an example for years. That’s because it’s part of our everyday experience. With the smartphone we could replace a bagful of tools with apps downloaded from the cloud, as shown below.

Old gadgets to smart phone

The designers of the smartphone foresaw some of the obvious apps, like email, calendars, music players and calculators. But many were completely unexpected. Designers took advantage of an open architecture with well-defined APIs to create innovative apps that nobody expected. And they used the cloud to deliver these to end users on demand.

Let’s look at how smartphones came to be standardized:

  • Apple took the approach of a closed platform based on proprietary hardware and operating system. But they enabled third-party developers to write apps for the online store.
  • Google drove a competing vision that was even more open. The Android operating system acts to provide separation between multiple hardware providers and app developers. End users can buy a phone that matches their budget and requirements, and then load the apps of their choice.

Applying disaggregation to telecom

How does this map into telecom? Let’s first look at network functions virtualization (NFV) and universal customer premises equipment (uCPE). NFV can be used to replace fixed routers, firewalls, SD-WAN endpoints and other network appliances. Instead of appliances you can use commercial off the shelf (COTS) servers to host software virtual network functions (VNFs), as shown below. And when we apply NFV to the customer site we get uCPE.

Old data centres to new

This transition was powered by architecture. The ETSI standardization body issued documents that described an architecture and interfaces. And innovative suppliers like ADVA embraced this architecture to deliver innovation based on a mixture of standards and openness.

  • The combination of server and Linux-based hosting software (like ADVA’s Ensemble Connector) is very standard. You can run any VNF or user application as required by a given application.
  • The servers themselves are mostly standard. They vary in terms of number of CPU cores, memory, storage, power supplies, environmental tolerance, networking ports and PCIe slots. But you can pick the right server for the job and still use standard components (e.g., USB devices, SFPs, and PCIe cards) in any device. That reduces inventory and supply chain issues.

The result? You get the benefits of openness and a standardization base for a set of interchangeable components. That simplifies the job of integration and support.

Other examples of open and multi-vendor systems

NFV and uCPE is not the only place where we can apply these principles to telecom. Here are some others:

  • Open line systems for WDM transport allow operators to use different suppliers for the line system and the terminal equipment. This is important because terminal equipment evolves much more quickly than does the line system. For more details on this topic, please see “The key facts about building a real open optical network” from my colleague Maite Chamorro.
  • Software-defined networking (SDN) systems enable the combination of COTS switches with separate software applications for the control plane. ADVA’s Ensemble Activator is an example of a network operating system that runs on standard third-party servers.
  • 5G networks are designed in a virtual and multi-vendor fashion. They support a mix-and-match approach to deployment. See the press releases here and here for some real world examples of open 5G implementations.

In each of these cases the ability to build components and then re-integrate them is enabled by a clear and open architecture.

Identify the right partners

ADVA is firmly committed to open architectures and multi-vendor deployments. We have products and solutions that are deployed today that show the power of this approach. And we can help you integrate a set of disparate components into a best-of-breed system – and support you as you deploy it. Let us help you see how the power of architecture can empower you to achieve your vision of true disaggregation.

Related articles