Ericsson has been in the communications industry since 1876, and this Swedish company has gone through a great deal of changes in its 138 years to stay relevant. Ericsson has been around for the transitions from telegraphs, to landlines, to mobile voice and data, and it’s preparing for the future of mobile Internet with cloud computing.
Moving to the Cloud “Because We Have To”
Ericsson’s head of cloud systems and platforms, Jason Hoffman says, “The dominant business of the company over the last decade has been deploying 2G, 3G, and 4G radio systems for carriers, we also very often operate those very networks on behalf of carriers as well.” He notes that currently about half of the world’s mobile data traffic is handled by Ericsson on behalf of carriers.
The company manages global, distributed network infrastructure on a scale few can imagine, and it is transitioning to 5G services that require new cloud architectures. To build this cloud computing platform, Ericsson chose a carrier-grade OpenStack distribution from Mirantis for virtualizing its network infrastructure in what is thought to be one of the largest OpenStack licensing deals yet.
Hoffman says that Ericsson has some fairly unique requirements, including the fact that it cannot have downtime as developers deliver new features and functionality. Any changes, he says, are done safely and “without breaking down mobile networks.”
Meanwhile, new devices are being added to these mobile networks by the minute.
Network improvements are paving the way for what Ericsson calls “The Networked Society,” in which it’s possible to connect 50 billion devices via 4G, and 500 billion to a trillion connected devices via 5G. In the coming years, most of these connected devices won’t be used for things like media downloading or texting, but rather for machine data that will be used to run the Internet of Things which could mean further incorporating data into transportation, healthcare, and other aspects of our daily lives.
Hoffman says for this vision to become a reality, there needs to be a flexible platform that can adapt to these uses by, for instance, pushing more compute and data to the edge, as opposed having it go through central offices and core data centers.
“For us it’s about taking that core, carrier infrastructure in the 181 countries we work in, and turning that into a global platform that allows for that degree of innovation. And it’s because we have to.”
Building a Global Platform using OpenStack
The ability to create very large clouds has been a mission for Mirantis from its very beginning, attracting customers such as Cisco, Dell, GE, NASA, HP, AT&T, and The Gap. Mirantis CEO Adrian Ionel says, “Doing these projects, we’re learned what it takes to build an OpenStack distro that is truly highly available yet flexible and configurable and easy to manage.”
Mirantis has been working with Ericsson for the past 18 months with the goal of bringing its many thousands of data centers and radio base stations onto a common OpenStack platform. “When OpenStack makes it into these 10,000 data centers and into these base stations, that makes OpenStack a standard for the future,” Ionel says. “And we’re very excited to bring OpenStack to an area of the technology industry where the future is.”
Wireless, he says, is quickly growing in importance, and wireless networks will need to undergo upgrades to serve new devices on the global internet. This means being able to provide things like real-time control loops, and predictable response times, as well as determining which applications need low-latency, and which ones require massive bandwidth, and providing it.
The Cloud: A Catalyst for a Developer Revolution
The shift to cloud isn’t just about improving resource use and reducing operating expenses; it’s also about quickly bringing new services to market, which is something very relevant to Ericsson.
Hoffman says, “The cloud phenomenon is a developer phenomenon, and if you think of what it is that’s different about clouds and cloud software than in the past, is that you take what’s nearly inaccessible, Frankenstein-combination-of-things, and turn it into an accessible, convenient, easy-to-use platform.”
Ionel says that many companies are see clear benefits to having cloud resources on demand for software testing and continuous integration, as well as allowing developers to collaborate and reuse code more easily.
“The biggest benefit of OpenStack and cloud platforms in general is the dramatic acceleration of software productivity and innovation,” he says. “If you develop natively on a cloud platform as opposed to a traditional client-server, your software productivity is going to be dramatically higher.”
Re-working the Network from Core Data Center to Base Station
Updating Ericsson’s massively distributed infrastructure means changes from the radio edge that communicates with mobile devices, to the central offices, and to the core data centers.
Ericsson’s goal is to have IP and optical converged on one platform with end-to-end orchestration – a transition that will be supported by Mirantis and the work of the OpenStack community.
Telecom infrastructure providers need to transition to the cloud to keep up with innovations happening on the network. Today’s mobile cloud services require high service levels and reliability, but these needs will only increase with emerging services like driverless cars and remote health monitoring.
Mobile networks will have to provide a solid foundation for these services.