Cloud Orchestration

Orchestration is key for telcos to quickly and easily increase the variety and number of products they offer. It also keeps them focused on what they do best: selling solutions wrapped with value-added services instead of commodity infrastructure.

“We have seen a lot of telcos rush into cloud, but the infrastructure space is still being dominated by commodity players,” such as Amazon Web Services LLC says GoGrid CEO John Keagy in a LightReading article. After investing tens of millions of dollars creating cloud service platforms, telecom operators need to be able to give their sales teams solid products to sell and “that has been a problem for most of the telcos,” he adds.

This is where we see cloud orchestration adding value. First, with the right solution, telecom operators can get to market with a pre-packaged solution. Next, and again with the right cloud orchestration solution, they can use APIs to extend the platform to their needs. But it does require the right solution.

Here we summarize advice from Paul Parker-Johnson at ACG Research. When SearchTelecom asked expert Paul Parker-Johnson how to select a cloud orchestration platform and what features are needed, here is some of what he said:

How do you select a cloud orchestration platform?

“…Sometimes the cloud platform that’s being orchestrated is the service, and in other cases the platform is hosting higher-level applications that are the operator’s internal services. Orchestration matters equally in both cases.

Providers should consider how much orchestration functionality they want already prepackaged in the platform versus how much functionality they want to provide based on their own other suppliers’ developments. The more prepackaged a platform is, the faster a provider can move — albeit down a somewhat constrained path. With a more loosely coupled and open platform, a cloud provider has more freedom to create a customized and possibly differentiated approach to designing its offerings.

Flexiant’s Thoughts

We agree with Parker-Johnson that providers need to consider how much orchestration they need, but that they always need to plan for more. If they select a platform that gives them features A, B and C today, but cannot extend to D, E and F in the future, that’s a problem.

So, do you deploy a standard cloud management solution, similar to some competitors, that does not include customization or differentiation capabilities? Do you become a ‘me-too’ offering? To avoid this, do you spend time, money and resource trying to develop a bespoke cloud management solution? The answer to all of these is a resounding no.

You, the telecom operator need to identify a way either to get to market quickly, if you are not already, or to truly play in the market to gain market share. But the need for speed should not mean sacrificing functionality or the ability to future proof the cloud platform. If it does, then the risk of commoditization and not meeting customers’ requirements is high. A generic and non-differentiated platform will not help you get ahead in this fiercely competitive market.

You need to ensure that the cloud solution delivered is flexible, adaptive and extensible. These three key words enable future growth and also the chance to create your own ecosystem of partners, easily.

“What features do providers need in cloud orchestration software?”

Parker-Johnson pointed to a number of capabilities cloud orchestration must provide, as summarized below.

  • An orchestration platform should support multiple types of virtual machines including kernel-based VMs, Xen, ESX and Hyper-V because accommodating enterprise customers’ workloads often requires providing a compatible platform for them to run in.
  • Ability to create workload and application templates for reuse in separate requests can accelerate service turnup and improve efficiencies.
  • To complement this use of templates, having an orchestration platform that incorporates DevOps tools such as Puppet and Chef as part of a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering or one that supports an internal operational support system (OSS) can significantly accelerate deployment.
  • Role-based access for the provider’s teams, as well as customer personnel, is critical for ensuring that permissions for what a person is authorized to do are enforced.
  • To be sure the environment will accomplish its goal, it’s also critical to inspect the underlying networks running inside the data center sites as well as between them — examining things like tenant virtual private networks and cloud data center context integrations — to be certain the desired scaling, agility and traffic handling requirements of the service will be met.
  • Ability to align the costs of the licensing terms of the system with the expected deployments. Providers should look at the cost points for different sizes of deployments and at terms for special subsystem capabilities, such as analytics, monitoring modules and billing application programming interface (API) integrations. 
  • In some environments, there may be additional requirements requiring extra analysis. If the goal is to orchestrate deployment of full applications from the cloud, this may include using a virtual firewall, an intrusion-detection platform, load balancing or other modules in a tenant’s configuration. These may require deployment in a service-chain design specific to the application. Determining whether an orchestration platform supports creating service chains, and whether specific virtual appliances are compatible, will be important.
  • The speed at which a service can be deployed or enhanced may be significantly influenced by whether the platform has truly extensible OSS and business support system APIs and a supported development environment for creating those extensions.

Flexiant’s Thoughts

Telecom operators need multi-hypervisor, infrastructure blueprints, role-based access controls, networking sophistication, load-balancing, extensibility and more. At the heart of a successful cloud business is a cloud orchestration solution that supports both an individual business, but also extends to reselling cloud services. It should include capabilities such as:

  • Internationalization for service providers and resellers so it is easy for you to on-board customers based on their geography and billing requirements.
  • Granular multi-level metering and billing that supports multi-level master billing entities and customers, and applies differing rates of billing and pricing structures for different entities. This should include subscription billing capabilities so you can bill according to your business.
  • Payment provider plug-ins to interface with payment provider systems to allow different plug-ins to be created for handling merchant transactions.
  • Support for complex billing scenarios enabling reseller/distributor type models.
  • Universal storage so service providers can have full flexibility over storage options and can be storage independent. An added benefit is support for Ceph, a distributed block store, object store and file system designed to provide excellent performance, reliability and scalability.
  • An intuitive and customizable user interface so that end users only see relevant information, resources in use and capabilities available which will help to reduce the workload on the IT team. It should also include brand-able and white-labeled context sensitive help to change the languages, descriptions and terminology used; important when you want to differentiate services.
  • Chef configuration management tool from Opscode for single click complex application deployment involving multiple servers, networks and resources all from a friendly user interface.
  • Self-service provisioning for you to extend and offer to customers.
  • Smart filtering so that end users have an uncluttered view of critical information with views available according to business categories, particularly helpful when reselling cloud services.
  • Cloud blueprint technology to allow service providers to graphically select all of the elements required to build a standard, virtual, workload package and save this as a re-usable and re-deployable template.
  • Scalability assurance at every layer of the stack and across multiple clusters and locations so service providers never need to worry about scaling the business.

But this is just the start of what a cloud orchestration solution should include. Supporting easy integration with third party technologies so service providers can work with best of breed technologies becomes vital as the competition heats up. You should have easy access to technologies that are right for your individual business allowing significant differentiation opportunities.

To learn more, download our whitepaper on “Arming the Cloud Service Provider to Compete”.

If you are not ready to get into the details of cloud orchestration, download our whitepaper on Cloud Risks and Opportunities Every Telecom Operator Needs to Know’.


Telecom Operator


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