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Author: Sean O’Donoghue

The Importance of Having an Edge: Five Key Capabilities of Edge Computing

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

In today’s hyperconnected digital economy, communication service providers (CSPs) are refocusing their efforts on developing and growing new revenue streams from their enterprise customers, and edge computing can help that cause. Top-tier CSPs recognize the capabilities and benefits of edge computing, monetizing enterprise revenue opportunities of the future, faster.

For many CSPs, their enterprise offerings currently focus on providing essential network connectivity services such as mobile and fixed broadband bundled with information and communications technology (ICT) services. Enterprises, for their part, have leveraged the convenience of having a “one-stop-shop” to order, consume and pay for network and IT products and services.

 

Technology Advancements & Edge Computing

With new advancements in technology, increased security concerns and the compelling requirement to deliver low-latency services with local autonomy, the deployment of dedicated private networks and industry applications has become mainstream.

As we look at Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) from a use case perspective, manufacturing, logistics, remote locations, retail and content delivery networks are some of the most debated use cases in the industry. Rapid advancements in technology have also contributed significantly to the realization of MEC. These advances include the availability of licensed, unlicensed and shared spectrum; the evolution of the closed mobile core network to an open, disaggregated and distributed cloud-native network; and the arrival of public, private and hybrid cloud data centers.

Notice that I haven’t mentioned 5G specifically. That’s because 5G is not a prerequisite for delivering Mobile Edge Computing capabilities. In fact, Affirmed was delivering 5G-styled capabilities such as control and user plane separation (CUPS), local break out (LBO), support for public cloud deployments and new industry levels of throughput using COTS x86 infrastructure even before the industry began to move toward 5G.

 

Edge Computing Capabilities Present CSPs With a Significant Opportunity

Few would argue that MEC presents a significant revenue opportunity for CSPs, provided they focus on their unique strengths and collaborate with innovative partners that can deliver highly differentiated webscale mobile services at unprecedented speed. Trust, transparency and reliable services are some of the key foundational elements that are already in place in the relationship between CSPs and enterprises. Collaboration with innovative partners is critical in laying the foundation for the delivery of next-generation enterprise services.

Let me explain why this partnership is so important. As CSPs ramp up the delivery of edge services to various industry verticals and enterprises, there are several key platform selection criteria and deployment considerations that they need take into consideration. These decisions will determine the commercial viability, deployment and operational synergies of their enterprise offerings going forward. At Affirmed Networks, we developed the Affirmed Cloud Edge specifically to address the MEC opportunity.

 

Mobile Edge Computing Capabilities and Benefits for Cloud Edge

Cloud Edge has five unique capabilities that support mobile edge computing, which differentiate it in the market today:

1. Ultra-high network performance

Cloud Edge delivers 10x more performance throughput than competitive alternatives: over 200 Gbps on a single Intel Xeon server. Its linear and independent scaling of the control, user and management data planes enables CSPs to rapidly and efficiently scale network resources at the network’s edge.

2. Deployment flexibility

Depending on the actual use case and the associated business imperatives, having the flexibility to either deploy a centralized or distributed solution is critical to achieving economies of scale—a capability that Cloud Edge delivers. For example, a CSP looking to deliver low-latency, multi-cloud services would benefit immensely by centralizing control plane functions (because of the proximity of network operations) but deploying user plane instances in a distributed fashion at either the CSP’s or the customer’s edge.

3. Differentiated experiences

Cloud Edge allows CSP to deliver differentiated services to their customers on a per-flow basis. This is achieved through a single integrated and highly optimized platform that consists of mobile core network functions and Gi-LAN functions such as vProbe, deep packet inspection (DPI), CG-NAT, optimization, proxy and load balancing.

4. Integrated virtual probe and real-time analytics

As CSPs look to complete with different service offers in the market, the ability to provide real-time network and customer behavioral insight, identify operational efficiencies, predict future demand and deliver service innovation is a key value-add. Cloud Edge delivers these capabilities, as well as real-time analytics that can support audit trails including the auditing of security data.

5. Automation

In the inevitable disaggregation of mobile networks, the ability to dynamically automate the onboarding of enterprises, end-user services, applications and scaling of network infrastructure is essential, particularly with MEC applications. Cloud Edge’s automation tools allow CSPs the capability to quickly adjust for traffic highs and lows automatically, thus reducing operational costs and reducing time to revenue.

 

Final Takeaways

To have an “Edge” going forward, CSPs need to fundamentally question the conventional wisdom that dictates how networks and related services are procured, delivered and operated. To win the enterprise opportunity, CSPs should partner with industry leaders that have a proven vision for the future. Whether you’re focused on the core, the edge or what lies beyond, follow the lead of top-tier CSPs around the world and trust Affirmed Networks to help you monetize the enterprise revenue opportunities of the future, faster.

 

The Age of the Subscription Economy

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

As enterprises move from physical products to digital services, they are redefining the business model relationship with the end customer, creating what we now know as the subscription model. Subscription models can help deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services to consumers. Many of today’s most popular digital 5g services use a subscription model, including music streaming, tv/video streaming, transportation, newspapers, and magazines. This trend will grow exponentially in the years ahead.

The rapid adoption of subscription-based services is not something new. Companies like Spotify introduced the idea of subscriber-based music streaming to consumers over a decade ago; today, Spotify boasts over 270+ million active users. In the enterprise domain, companies such as Oracle have also successfully made the transition from on-premise perpetual software to a cloud-based SaaS business model for infrastructure and software applications.

Meanwhile, in the communications industry, service providers are looking to enhance their digital offerings and business models to become the digital service providers (DSPs) of tomorrow. Streaming services are a big opportunity for consumers, and DSPs are embracing subscription-based models to procure, deliver and monetize these digital services.

Subscription Models and the Mobile Network

This shift to subscription-based models is reflected in Affirmed Networks’ Mobile Network as a Service and Affirmed Cloud Edge offerings, which are designed to help DSPs rapidly deploy their mobile network infrastructure, accelerate service innovation and reduce costs in an open public cloud infrastructure.

Mobile Network as a Service Capabilities

With Mobile Network as a Service, DSPs can:

  • Rapidly and cost-effectively test new markets and services by leveraging public cloud infrastructure and economies of scale;
  • Instantly instantiate new services and functions such as deep packet inspection, media optimization, and network address translation on a single platform;
  • Focus on growing the digital services business opportunity while a partner delivers the underlying platform;
  • Eliminate upfront CapEx costs required for hardware and data center costs while controlling OpEx costs thereafter;
  • Provide “just in time” network scaling for the capacity that DSPs actually need, rather than “just in case” capacity planning that often requires expensive over-provisioning of network resources;
  • Implement local breakout services to reduce backhauling costs and improve customer experiences.

 

Procuring, delivering and monetizing mobile network infrastructure has evolved from hardware-based solutions to perpetual software-based models and, now, to SaaS-based models. DSPs are slowly changing procurement procedures and other internal practices as they move to SaaS-based solutions delivered by innovative partners. DSPs understand the value creation that SaaS enables in their business by rapidly delivering a tailored solution for customers, generating recurring revenues and reducing customer churn. For the end customer, this all boils down to convenience.

A Win-Win for Consumers & DSPs

A digital service that is personalized to the needs of the individual customer in terms of commitment, payments and accessibility is paramount. The evolution of traditional models to SaaS-based models is necessary to meet changing customer behaviours and foster innovative ways to generate new revenue streams. The technology and the commercial models are now available to DSPs to help them rapidly prototype, innovate and deliver meaningful 5G consumer and enterprise services. At the same time, end consumers get more personalized service. It’s a win-win scenario that everyone can subscribe to.

The Democratization of IT and the Network: Are You Ready?

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

Many years ago, I worked at a network equipment provider, where I shared an office with the mobile core team. And every morning, as I walked through the reception area, I would pass a pair of towering, refrigerator-sized CGSN and SGSN nodes. Each node could deliver wireless access protocol (WAP) service to about 50,000 subscribers. At the same time, companies like VMware and Sun Microsystems were just starting to take the concept of IT virtualization mainstream.

How times have changed. And it’s because of the Democratization of IT.

Today, IT applications are being rewritten to adopt cloud-native principles and deployed in hybrid cloud environments that are maintained with a DevOps model. Yet while IT applications for functional domains such as Online Channels, Customer Relationship Management, Sales Force Automation, and Human Capital Management have already made the transition to a cloud-native design, network applications have only recently begun to embark on virtualization and the first wave of digitalization.

The Democratization of Networks

We hear a lot of debate in the industry around the impact of 5G, but I believe another and equally important topic is being ignored: the democratization of the network. Never before has the network been more accessible. The democratization of technology and the network is taking place, led by open-based technologies and evolving commercial models such as open, web-based interfaces, cloud-native architectures, and public cloud deployments.

Few people would argue the necessity of cloud-native network functions to deliver service and operational agility, but what lessons can the network community learn from the evolution of on-premise software to virtualized software and, finally, to truly cloud-native software? Will the traditional barriers between networks and IT collapse until all applications are deployed on horizontal platforms? I believe the answer is a definitive Yes.

Today, most service providers have separate IT and network teams that reflect the historical separation of the two technologies. This is rapidly changing, however. As service providers come to realize that the network and IT functions can be developed, deployed and managed from a common open-source infrastructure, the heated discussions between IT and Networking over topics such as converged charging and prepaid platforms have become a distant memory.

There are still points for discussion, of course; for example, the need for an infrastructure that supports both CPU-intensive and I/O-intensive workloads. But there are many similarities and synergies that can be derived by jointly designing a network and IT applications in areas such as security, reliability, and resiliency. And, really, shouldn’t we be working together to create a common set of requirements, platforms, and processes to develop, manage and maintain both IT and network applications?

The Solution for Service Providers

The solution, I believe, lies in the creation of a common platform and a common team to architect, deploy and operate the core applications of the future. Labeling an application as an “IT application” or a “network application” is less important than creating an underlying platform that has the built-in flexibility and adaptability to serve the future needs of both IT and networking. Service providers cannot count on traditional vendors to deliver this future. These vendors have a legacy hardware business to protect and are saddled with legacy software that cannot fulfill the basic requirements of cloud-native.

What service providers need is choice. For example, they should be able to choose whether they deploy network applications on bare metal, in a private cloud, in a public cloud or in a hybrid cloud running on a common platform. Affirmed is committed to delivering more choices to service providers through the industry’s only truly cloud-native mobile core solution built on a common, open-source platform. It’s much more than a platform for virtualization; it’s a platform for innovation.

Think about it: How will service providers operate networks and deliver network assurance as the cloudification of the network goes mainstream? Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient to have a single observability platform (e.g., Grafana) for both IT and network functions? From a service agility perspective, IT has been using microservices for years to rapidly deliver new software functionality and capabilities. Now, for the first time, IT and network functions can take advantage of the same technologies while using the same tools, processes, and people – thanks to democratization.

Service providers can now leverage a common platform for all their enterprise applications, whether they’re IT or network applications. This has the benefit of improving agility and operations while reducing costs. Of course, to do this, the platform has to be flexible enough to support the various workload configurations, evolve as the open-source tools evolve and support multiple use cases and deployment models.

It’s the promise of new 5G use cases, operational models and cost efficiencies that will drive service providers to review their current platform choices and look for a better solution. On the other side of that solution are a democracy of IT and network teams working together on a shared goal of a better future. Affirmed Networks is ready for that future right now. Are you?

If Data is the New Oil, Why Have Your Mobile Network Analytics Efforts Stalled?

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

It’s been said that data is the new oil. If that’s true, communications service providers (CSPs) have struck it rich. Their networks collect a vast amount of data on customers, all of which can be used to deliver better customer experiences and new, revenue-generating services.  Mobile network analytics is the opportunity that CSPs have waited for, as they look to transform their business model from communications providers to digital service providers.

In order to deliver better digital engagement and personalized experiences, CSPs need more than real-time accurate data. They need robust mobile network analytics to gain valuable customer insights, identify operational efficiencies, predict future demand and create new services that customers want. There’s just one small problem with all that: Very few CSPs are actually analyzing their network data to do any of those things.

Shortcomings on Current Approaches to Network Analytics

From the beginning, mobile networks were designed as tightly coupled systems that featured hardware-based probes to collect data and deliver insights. With the move to NFV-based networks, the physical probe paradigm became obsolete. Physical probes didn’t scale well, and they weren’t designed to monitor virtual infrastructures, which are dynamic in nature.

To address these shortcomings, passive virtual probes were introduced. These were implemented as separate network functions but, as network traffic loads increased, virtual probes began to take a heavy toll on network performance. A virtual packet gateway, for example, might spend more than half its resources just performing data copy operations for the passive virtual probe.

As if cutting performance in half weren’t bad enough, CSPs now had to double the amount of hardware just to get the same performance from the packet gateway and other functions. Faced with the added complexity and cost of virtual probes, many CSPs opted to either abandon mobile network analytics initiatives altogether or limit them to very specific areas such as service assurance. And so the opportunity to drive new revenue streams fueled by network data analytics was lost.

A New Era of Integrated Virtual Probes and Analytics Arrives

Affirmed Networks did more than radically change how mobile networks were designed and delivered; we also pioneered the first integrated virtual probe and analytics solution. With Affirmed’s virtual probe solution, vProbe, CSPs can get real-time mobile network analytics and intelligence in a highly scalable manner without the performance degradation that results with physical or traditional virtual probes.

How did we create a network probe solution that could scale simply across global networks and still cut costs by more than half? By following these five guiding design principles:

1. Integrate the probing function with the network function.

Most virtual probes add packet latency, complexity, and cost – and drain computer resources – because they add an extra step in the network as data packets move from the network function to the probe function. But the best source of network data is the actual network function itself, so we integrated vProbe with it. Now, as the network functions scales, the probing function scales with it, cutting probing costs in half.

2. Simplify with single-touch packet handling.

You can think of a data packet as information sealed in an envelope, complete with a destination address. Most systems open the packet each time they need to perform a function such as content inspection or optimization. Affirmed vProbe opens the packet once to perform everything – heuristics, video optimization, content filtering, CG-NAT forwarding, etc. – then closes the packet and sends it on its way. Single touch is simply more efficient.

3. Create finely grained, intelligent event data records.

In order to better harness, mine and gain insights from the information collected by a probe, data records must be delivered in an open, consistent and granular fashion. This applies to both control plane and user plane information, on a per-flow and individual customer level. Finely grained mobile network data leads to more precision.

4. Enable real-time analytics.

As customers access content, watch videos, and make calls, they’re sharing invaluable, real-time information about their behavior and interests, as well as about your network – information that can be used to capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities, identify network performance bottlenecks, ferret out fraud and more. The reality is that opportunities and issues happen in real-time, and you either have the information you need to drive intelligent decision-making, or you don’t.

5. Embrace open standards.

Architectural openness is vital for modern software platforms. Affirmed vProbe provides open access to session information using Google’s standards-based protocol buffers to create data records. These can easily be integrated with a variety of third-party network analytics tools to deliver real-time insight into network operations, network security, network planning, and marketing activities.

 

Digital leaders leverage data to deliver engaging customer experiences, which is why they’re the world’s most valued companies. Legacy infrastructure and approaches, meanwhile, have stunted CSPs’ ability to capture, see and act on the wealth of information that flows through their networks. To take advantage of the next generation of business opportunities such as IoT, 5G services and AI-driven customer engagement, real-time mobile network analytics are an absolute must. With Affirmed vProbe, CSPs no longer have an excuse not to dive deeply into data analytics.

In a world where everyone is competing to deliver digital services, CSPs need to leverage their data for a competitive advantage. Now, more than ever, it’s oil or nothing.

Innovation at the Core: Standalone 5G Core Architecture

by Sean O’Donoghue Sean O’Donoghue No Comments

Whenever 5G is mentioned, the conversation seems to inevitably shift to 5GNR (New Radio) as the driver for the diverse use cases that will come. Meanwhile, all those 5G mobile core innovations are pushed to the margins, with maybe a mention of network slicing. These same pundits like to tell people that 5G is still years away and to keep building out their 4G cores until it arrives. In reality, what should actually be talked about is standalone 5G core architecture. Sinking investments into a sub-optimal, closed 4G network isn’t biding your time wisely – it’s burying an opportunity.

Let me explain. Traditional mobile cores were designed to support a “one size fits all” model where voice and data services dominated the landscape. And that was understandable in a world where most networks had few service differentiations. When NFV arrived, communications service providers (CSPs) began to look more closely at cost-saving opportunities – but not at the service opportunities – presented by a virtualized Evolved Packet Core (vEPC). What they missed was the fact that next-generation services would require a radical transformation in the mobile core architecture beyond virtualization, specifically around areas that address high throughput, low latency, and high reliability. This radical transformation led to the idea of a standalone 5G core architecture.

Your cloud vendor matters… a lot

On the road to the future, CSPs need to question if their current network strategy is open to the changes and disruption that 5G will bring. For example, are they partnering with cloud-native companies or with legacy vendors whose cloud strategies are mostly air? If you’re working with a true cloud partner, you should already have a standalone 5G network in place or in process. Otherwise, you won’t be able to support the new DevOps models that will drive the revenue streams for 5G services.

Beyond that, a bigger question is whether your network is ready for 5G. Is your network infrastructure optimized and adaptable to change? 5G network should be flexible enough to deploy on public clouds, hybrid clouds, VMs or bare metal. If your 5G strategy isn’t prepared for all those scenarios, you’re seriously limiting your future. I cover this subject of cloud vendor preparedness in my blog, “It’s Time to Come Clean About Cloud-Washing.”

Five ways that a standalone 5G core can drive revenue

Network slicing is just one slice of the 5G pie. There are plenty of ways that a standalone 5G core architecture can drive revenue:

#1. Network Slicing

This is a frequently talked-about capability in 5G where a network is logically “sliced” into different segments with unique policies and capabilities to deliver customized services to an enterprise or group of customers. While network slicing is important in realizing new revenue streams – particularly for enterprise use cases – it can also serve a range of additional use cases such as accelerated transition to virtualization, operational maintenance or new service rollouts.

#2. The Service Based Architecture (SBA)

The SBA enables network functions and external systems to communicate using web-based APIs. For a CSP making the transition from telco-native to cloud-native, this can be a seismic shift. Forget about the days when you needed to understand dozens of telecommunications protocols in order to make a simple connection. In SBA, services can register themselves and subscribe to other services, or new services can be introduced, using the same API patterns. For the first time, a network’s data and services can be exposed in a standard, secure and comprehensible way to innovative third-parties in order to create better services.

#3. Integrated Gi-LAN Services

I wrote about the value of an integrated virtual probe and analytics solution in an earlier blog (“The Intelligent Data-Centric Network”). With powerful, actionable customer insight, CSPs can rapidly create personalized targeted offers, promotions and service bundles to attract new customers and grow revenue. Affirmed is unique in this space, as we’re the only company to provide a single platform for value-added services such as security, video optimization, TCP acceleration and parental control that enables a unique and differentiated experience on a per-flow basis.

#4. Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC)

Formerly known as mobile edge computing, multi-access edge computing (MEC) is yet another exciting area for growth that requires a high-performance, reliable and scalable mobile 5g core. Affirmed’s Cloud Edge (ACE) is a MEC-based solution that allows CSPs to rapidly deploy and monetize use cases such as content delivery networks (CDNs), augmented/virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, drones, IoT, private LTE/5G for enterprise and location-specific services (e.g., in-store retail, advertising, etc.).

#5. Automation

This will be critical in the future, as CSPs will need to scale in the hyper-connected societies of tomorrow. The CSPs that execute automated service provisioning and service assurance well will reap the benefits of faster time-to-revenue and higher customer lifetime value.

Not all mobile core vendors can deliver on the promise of 5G in the form of ultra-reliable, low latency, high-throughput networks. In fact, most of them cannot deliver this because of fundamental limitations in their technology, operational challenges and the double-sided desire to protect their legacy revenue streams. But all this raises an interesting question: If your vendor has an agenda that doesn’t align with your vision of the future, where are you headed?

 

Make no mistake: 5G is still up for grabs. Someone is going to make a lot of money on new 5G services. It could be the Googles and Amazons of the world – and it probably will be, to some extent – but CSPs have the potential to be the real winners in the battle for 5G services revenue. So what’s your competitive advantage: a network experience that feels like a slightly faster version of 4G or one that completely transforms the user experience by delivering better experiences and driving innovative new services to market quickly? When you need a standalone 5G network, only one truly stands alone: Affirmed Networks.