Here's how Verizon uses OpenStack for 5G and more

OpenInfra Summit, Vancouver, B.C., Canada – Verizon has been leveraging OpenStack, the open-source cloud computing platform, to support its 5G and other initiatives for years now.

Why? Beth Cohen, Verizon's software-defined network (SDN) and cloud strategist, shared insights into the company's decision to use OpenStack and how it has been beneficial for their specific workloads and network requirements.

According to Beth Cohen, Verizon's software-defined network (SDN) and cloud strategist, the telco started down the path of OpenStack because it made the most sense for its specific workloads and network requirements. The company needed a cloud infrastructure to support its 5G and other initiatives, and OpenStack met those criteria. Despite the push by hyper-cloud providers to entice telecom companies into using their infrastructure, Verizon found that it could run its data center deployments just as efficiently as these providers but tailored to its own workloads.

Beth Cohen, Verizon's software-defined network (SDN) and cloud strategist, is just one of the speakers featured during Silverlining’s virtual Cloud-native 5G Summit from June 27-28, 2023. Register here.

Cohen stated, "We can run them just as efficiently as they do, but we could tailor it to our own workloads." She further explained that OpenStack allows Verizon to tailor the infrastructure for specific workloads and tools, and it has been particularly effective in handling network workloads.

More than just an OpenStack homebrew

That's not to say, however, that Verizon has used just their own OpenStack homebrew. Cohen said, "Because of the nature of our company, we have a mix of straight OpenStack and third-party OpenStack distributions." Which ones? That Cohen wouldn't say. To learn that you must work at Verizon.

Another reason Verizon embraced OpenStack is, Cohen said, "it has a lot of features that allow it to be highly redundant." That's vital for Verizon because its business depends on ultra-high reliability. She added, "Telecoms are in business for the long haul, and we must have stability."

Beth Cohen
(Beth Cohen)

It's not just Verizon that has staked its 5G future on OpenStack. Cohen noted, "OpenStack is widely deployed in many of the top-tier telcos around the globe.”

These top-tier telcos include AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, SK Telecom and Comcast. The reason behind the deployment stems from OpenStack’s maturity — even a decade ago, OpenStack was already a very mature private cloud and it enables telecoms to offer new services quickly.

As a result, at Verizon, OpenStack is the foundation for one of Verizon's reference models. The other one is based on Kubernetes. These are used to standardize the infrastructure to support telco workloads.

Verizon's use of OpenStack extends beyond just conventional 5G. The company has been working on creating infrastructure to support edge applications, both in private and public settings. This includes private 5G, also known as 5G standalone (SA),

About that mythical 5G ‘killer app’

Cohen said 5G's killer app might be fixed wireless access. Verizon deploys private 5G in architecture deployments for customer locations such as campuses, factories, and real estate developments. The telco is using it as a Wi-Fi replacement where — besides making the Internet of Things (IoT) more useful — it's also proven useful for other, more mundane, but important uses.

For instance, Cohen said, "Tracking inventory equipment is a classic. A hospital CIO told me they literally couldn't keep track of where their mobile ultrasound machines were. It's not like people were stealing them. They'd just leave them here or there. They actually put RFID tags on them, so that they could track where they were and keep the inventory."

But it was more than that. By being able to track equipment, they could also integrate their position into their maintenance systems, she added.

This kind of inventory control and management is now making it into private 5G applications. With 5G, you don't have to be within a few feet of a device within a campus environment to track it, nor do you need to worry about a device inside an obscure closet being hidden by walls.

Cohen added, "And the devices to support that are cheap. There are only, you know, probably three billion cell phones out there with this built-in capability." With OpenStack providing the platform, it's simple to build applications to take advantage of fixed point 5G, she added.

Back to OpenStack school

That said, Cohen added there's one thing she's really like to see the OpenInfra Foundation, the non-profit group behind OpenStack, address: education.

"Telecoms are working really hard to come up with ways to improve the network performance, particularly in edge use cases. And, developers are writing applications for edge end-use cases,” she explained. “However, most developers know nothing about networks. And telcos don't know a whole lot about applications, right? What we're missing here is the applications that are written for the edge need to know about where they are on the network, and how to best use the network to optimize the application."

She concluded, "So if OpenInfra can help educate people and help build tools that make optimizing for these distributed applications easier that would be great for everyone, telecoms, software developers, network engineers, and users."

Looking ahead, Cohen sees OpenStack and its myriad related projects, such as the StarlingX edge architecture, continue to play a critical role in Verizon further deploying 5G and making the most of it for their customers. 

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