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Do we need architecture if we’re building in the cloud?

This post is by Lars Lagerstrom from Nokia Networks.
Twitter: @LarsLagerstrom

A friend asked me some time ago if my job is at risk now that everything is expected to move into the cloud. After gasping for air, I came up with an answer that I still believe is correct. If I lose my job, it certainly won’t be for that reason... We’ll need architecture thinking in the cloud era more than ever ─ and for many reasons.

First of all, as hardware becomes a commodity and the differentiating value lies in software, it is clear that today’s hardware-oriented architecture must be replaced with software architecture. Most people tend to think of architecture in terms of physical network elements tied together using a network architecture specified by 3GPP or an OSS/BSS system based on principles outlined in TM Forum Frameworx, for example. This obviously has to change, but the big question is what will the software architecture look like?

What happens if everything becomes software?

The ETSI NFV (Network Function Virtualization) architecture specification is a cornerstone of Nokia’s partnering ecosystem, which aspires to offer operators the best possible virtualized and cloud-based solutions in the industry. The first phase of the specification work was scheduled to be completed in December 2014 and phase 2 will produce normative specifications that can be used to enable end-to-end interworking of equipment and services. Before those specifications become available however, multi-vendor implementations will depend on close cooperation between the suppliers. This is one reason why our partnering initiative includes a certification program to make the integration of Nokia and partner products as smooth and risk-free as possible.

So how will the new functionality based on ETSI NFV co-exist with an operator’s existing data centers? This is a key architectural aspect that tends to be overlooked. Nokia has already installed virtualized versions of its management solutions, such as NetAct and iSON Manager in the data centers of several operators. Architecture blueprints will also be made available to facilitate interworking with the rest of the telco cloud offering. But the fact is, these are baby steps – the whole industry is still in a very early phase of the learning curve.

Perhaps you’re also wondering how long the current network architectures specified by 3GPP will survive. The trend today is to virtualize network elements without changing their functionality or the way they are connected to each other. In other words, the network architecture remains unchanged in the cloud even though it is now software-based. But since the hardware dependency is gone, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way anymore. The (hardware-based) network elements have become software modules running side by side in one or several data centers. This opens up a huge opportunity to innovate the networks of tomorrow.

Software Defined Networks (SDN) is just the beginning. Imagine the day when networks are truly programmable, fully orchestrated and connected to the operator’s business processes and business systems. It sounds like a distant vision, but we are already taking the first steps towards making it reality. But I won’t be taking my reference architecture hat off any time soon.

Agree? Disagree? Should I start updating my resumé or do you see a need for architecture in the cloud?

Share your thoughts on this topic by replying below – or join the Twitter discussion with @nokianetworks using #Nokia #TelcoCloud #MBBFuture #Innovation.

Lars Lagerstrom

About Lars Lagerstrom

A network veteran, Lars is Nokia Networks’ go-to-guy for many topics, including Nokia Reference Architecture, Enterprise Architecture, customer-centric OSS transformation, business transformation, 3G strategies, revenue growth, and operator processes. When he’s not solving architectural puzzles, you can find him with his 3 grandchildren or on his boat somewhere in the Finnish archipelago.

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