BT preps its network cloud for global deployment next year

While hookups between telcos and hyperscale cloud providers have become almost run of the mill, BT has been working away on its BT Network Cloud for some time.

BT Chief Architect Neil McRae said BT made the decision a while back to give the boot to NFV, virtual network functions (VNFs) and virtual machines (VMs) in order to focus on cloud-native and containers on its cloud platform. All of which enables BT to put resources where they're needed the most by using BT Network Cloud.

"We've got BT Network Cloud nodes in the U.K., but we're going to be rolling them out globally as well" he said. "It's there to support the services that we want to virtualize, which is why we're going really go big on cloud-native, and trying to avoid any kind of VM-based virtualization because it doesn't really scale and it's quite hard to manage."

McRae said BT's 5G network core is running on the BT Network Cloud, as well as its Qwilt-based content delivery network (CDN).

"We have some other network locations like RADIUS, domain name service, you know, simpler apps running on this platform," McRae said. "And our goal is effectively to have pretty much all the services we offer, when appropriate, running on this platform across the UK and across the globe.

"The brains of the platform come from Canonical. We're using their connect clouds software with various components, and also Juniper with Contrail on the network side along with our already deployed Ciena (Blue Planet) orchestration."

Using its nodes, BT Network Cloud reaches into data centers, central offices and on prem locations. While McRae said NFV stranded compute power on prem, the cloud platform enables BT to deliver compute wherever it's needed. BT is currently deploying on prem edge services in a trial using its cloud platform. By dynamically placing edge compute where it's needed, low latency is enabled for applications and services such as IoT, augmented reality/virtual reality and online gaming.

"The way I think of it, it's much more of our cluster of compute across our network that we can move workloads between and use, and really harness the power of the network," McRae said. "With some of the VNF stuff, we just found that really hard to do."

McRae cited the example of a traveler taking a train from London to Glasgow, Scotland. Currently, that traveler's smartphone application would stay based at the starting point in London instead of switching to the Glasgow-based network assets. With BT Cloud Network, the network assets move in tandem with the applications.

"If there's a big soccer match between two teams in Scotland, say Celtic and the Rangers, we want to position the compute power to cope with that in Scotland," McRae said. "And again, we just felt that doing that with traditional VNF/VMs was very difficult. We started quite early on figuring out what we needed to do to for us to do this from a more container/cloud-native point of view."

While BT Cloud Network will be deployed globally next year, McRae said there are still some decisions to be made on how that will happen. Thanks to its global nodes, BT could take the same approach it's using in the U.K., or BT could build it on a public cloud.

"Do we build our capability on the public cloud and leverage that or do we build it with our own infrastructure? Right now, we probably haven't fully decided on that because there are lots of advantages to doing the public cloud for us," McRae said. "But there are some downsides, as well, which is they (cloud providers) don't have all the feature functionality that we need, although Google Anthos is close.

"We need our own specific partners for encoding, and video. We might decide on our own hardware rather than use the cloud."

Whether BT extends its cloud platform to a public cloud or not, it will be using its own tooling, according to McRae. BT partnered with Verizon on a trial several years ago that used 5G network slicing for drones.

"If you imagine the direction of 5G, where you've got network slices, you could potentially exchange a slice in the U.K. with a slice from the U.S., and still run that on our own multi-cloud ecosystem and tooling," McRae said. "There's a lot of trials and testing, proof of concepts, that need to take place before we figure out what the best direction might be."

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While telcos such as AT&T, Orange Business Services and Telefonica have multiple cloud partnerships in place with various hyperscale providers, McRae isn't sold on that approach just yet. From the cloud provider side, Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are targeting telco's last mile connections and data centers,

"How do we ensure that all customers are going to want access to all of the clouds? We need to be multi-cloud enabled, but how big is that market really going to be? Because you can invest in a lot of infrastructure and it might not have the greatest return," he said. "How you ensure that you're able to really manage services across multiple cloud providers? Something that we tend to see as one service or application on one cloud provider now splitting across many, it just becomes hard to manage all the details.

"The hyperscaler play in the telco space is going to be one of those interesting developments throughout next year."