The benefits of a virtualised infrastructure have been well-documented on many PowerPoints, webinars and web pages of late. All parties in the ICT world are getting excited about the potential savings and increases in flexibility and performance that virtualised processing, storage and networking can bring under a cloud banner. Telcos are no exception to this excitement. However, from the internal telco perspective, it raises some very significant questions about changing process, approach and even culture.
The traditional telecoms world of cosy but fraught relationships with Network Equipment Providers (NEPs), key software players as well as the essential niche players has always been part of the conservative, controlled world of telecoms with long lead times for product and service development and testing. Integrity of the software driving the network and emerging services from the telco portfolio has been done under ‘safe’ conditions. As the value and supply chain is disrupted by non-telco players, as the key network functions virtualise across the disparate infrastructure, ‘steady’ development time is being challenged. Add to this the fact that the telco will have to support the apps developed for the increasing proportion of smart mobile devices. Ironically, as the market stretches, the telco (and hence its suppliers) will have to work even harder to provide a control layer to underping the customer experience of the actual end user.
A future scenario where the telco is relying more and more on software developed by the NEPs, OTT players as well as off and near-shore in-house and partners along with a diminishing amount developed in-house), all puts an increased strain on the quality assurance and integrity of change management within the essential operating systems of the organisation.
This is all part of the move towards a more software defined telco. After all, the appeal of virtualisation is to operate in a more and more standard and dramatically lower cost compute environment. Software Defined Network (SDN) has emerged in the data centre with its new control plane to improve operational control and will now begin to impact the service delivery across the (Wide Area Network) WAN and on to the ever more mobile end device. Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) promises much as the key network functions gain the virtualised benefits of an open stack approach.
However, the timescales for developing and testing new infrastructure and services are being squeezed by the agility of the OTT players on the one hand and by the Cloud delivery players coming from a non-telco origin on the other. Change management is, therefore, even more critical and telcos will need to adopt a radically different approach to deliver competitive turn around times. The burden will, in many ways, be on the OSS and BSS areas. By definition, this is the software focus for the telcos and will tie together the various distributed components. This subsequently raises the question of where the OSS sits within the organisation and puts the spotlight on the niggly issue of how networking and IT relate to each other in the telco. Evidence is scarce that the gap between the two has closed dramatically.
The solution may well be for the telco community to embrace the Cloud approach and encourage its suppliers to develop their own software components with appropriate APIs in the Cloud for the flexibility needed to match services coming from non-telco sources Having said that, it also needs a fundamental cultural and management change throughout the telco..
In short, the relationship between the telcos and their suppliers with a services component will become the underlying delivery mechanism for many of their future infrastructure and services portfolio to an ever more demanding market with individuals, households, business and the Internet of Things (IOT) demanding high quality services at a reasonable market rate.