One of the world’s largest telecom companies is relying on Israel to restrategize and reformulate key parts of its business – and the technology developed in Israel by Alcatel-Lucent by its CloudBand team has turned out to be good enough to deploy worldwide.
CloudBand is Alcatel-Lucent’s implementation of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) – the consolidation of carrier network functions across distributed industry standard servers, creating a cloud that telcos can use for standard and even advanced services. It’s where the telecom world is going, as far as Alcatel-Lucent CEO Michel Combes is concerned, and at a press conference in Alcatel-Lucent’s Israel headquarters in Kfar Sava, Combes outlined his vision of how NFV, and particularly CloudBand, will change the telecom world, and why Alcatel-Lucent, with the help of its Israeli CloudBand team.
“Currently network are based on legacy technology and dedicated infrastructure that has been in place for 15-20 years,” said Combes. “That we are in the midst of a data explosion is well-known, but because of the nature of networks, upgrading their capability and capacity is costly and time consuming. It often takes months to deploy even one new service.”
This is especially bad for telephone companies and cellphone service providers, who are losing out on potential streams of income because they can’t get services up and running as quickly as companies that design apps for smartphones, which do their magic by communicating with servers in the cloud, ironically using the service providers’ data networks. Because the legacy equipment used by telcos and service providers is so much harder to configure for more services – because they use complicated or proprietary configurations or programming languages, for example – it’s much harder for the service providers themselves to get those apps running, so they lose out to start-ups that “steal their thunder” by offering services and apps the service providers should be offering, said Combes.
CloudBand will help solve those problems, giving telcos and service providers the piece of the pie they so deserve, said Combes. “It is similar to what happened in data centers, when Google centralized apps and distributed them through the cloud,” said Combes, referring to apps like Gmail and Google Docs. “We string together different clouds making them accessible to service providers, where they can use applications and services that are built in. For this you need a common infrastructure, instead of the proprietary ones in use now, and CloudBand provides this. It really is a new way for service providers to do business.”
Alcatel-Lucent Vice President and CloudBand Business Unit General Manager Dor Skuler has been the motivating force behind the Alcatel-Lucent effort. “Eventually the entire industry is going to go for this, or something like it; it just makes too much sense economically, just like the cloud makes sense for enterprise, by letting companies avoid the need to invest in expensive dedicated hardware.” Alcatel-Lucent, though, is poised to lead this telco cloud conversion – because so far, it’s the only company building something like CloudBand.
The master plan, said Skuler, is to get Israeli companies – specifically the five major cellphone service providers (Pelephone, Cellcom, Partner/Orange, Meers, Golan) to adopt CloudBand in whole or part, and to make Israel a shining example of how the system companies. To that end, the company is expanding its CloudBand Ecosystem Program, an open arena where companies can play with elements of the CloudBand infrastructure and see how it fits in with their businesses.
As CloudBand is to be a common infrastructure, it makes use of many pieces of software that are accessible to everyone – like open source software, such as OpenStack. While open source has the reputation of being something large corporations stay away from, Skuler said that the dozens of large companies were already using it worldwide. Among the happy users of the system is Germany’s Deutsche Telekom; the company is using CloudBand to deploy a telecom network in one of its Eastern European subsidiaries, said Combes. Alcatel-Lucent is now expanding CloudBand to a wider group of companies; among those signed up for the system are giants like Telefónica, Citrix, Intel, Vyatta, Radware, Red Hat, HP, Nuage Networks, Gigaspaces, and others.
According to Combes, CloudBand is a major part of telecom’s, and therefore Alcatel-Lucent’s, future. “We believe new technologies like NFV are going to massively change the networking landscape. They will lead the industry’s network transformation to a cloud-based approach.”
And CloudBand is a pure “Israeli play,” said Skuler. “This started here in 2011 with one person, and now we have over 100 working on it,” he said. In fact, Israel is probably the only place in the world a vision like CloudBand could have come to pass. “We have a melting pot of talent here,” Skuler said. “CloudBand is a place where networks, infrastructure, cloud, and information technology collide. It’s not easy to find engineers who are familiar with these things, but they are available in Israel because of the start-up and tech ecosystem we have here.”
“Having world-class cloud facilities in Israel, as well as in Silicon Valley, gives Alcatel-Lucent two of the brightest centers in the world focused on excellence in cloud technologies,” said Combes. “Their location, in global innovation hubs, underscores our commitment to cloud’s evolution, which we see as one of the most integral and influential technologies shaping next generation networks, communications, business and the economy within the next five years.”