Editor's Corner—MEF makes a play at OTT cloud providers en route to world federation of carriers

MEF executives outlined an ambitious roadmap at last month's MEF19 conference in Los Angeles that included snagging more business with hyperscale cloud providers and federated models for carriers.

During his keynote address, MEF CTO Pascal Menezes outlined how the LSO Sonata API could be used, along with Carrier Ethernet, to provision services from a cloud provider to a carrier's network edge. Menezes, as well as MEF President Nan Chen, also said that MEF would focus on underlays and overlays starting next year, which includes using the LSO Sonata inter-carrier API as the connecting point between the two. Menezes said SD-WAN can become the gateway of an overlay model that uses a high-speed transport underlay regardless of what that underlay is.   

"We want the underlay and overlays to talk to each other from an automation point of view," Menezes said during a press conference. "It's important because some parts of the overlay need to know about the underlay."

Using LSO Sonata, the over-arching goal is to federate service providers worldwide to automate the provisioning, ordering and delivery of services. That's a significant task, but MEF executives pointed to their resume in bringing Carrier Ethernet services to fruition, to the tune of an $85 billion global market, and the recent SD-WAN standardization and certification efforts as proof that MEF is up to the challenge.

RELATED: MEF puts its stamp of approval on industry's first SD-WAN standard

The LSO Sonata standardization effort is being conducted under the auspices of the MEF 3.0 Global Services Framework. Using a programmatic API-to-API interface, the LSO Sonata APIs allow service providers to automate and provision their services between their separate architectures.

RELATED: Industry first: AT&T and Colt team up on deployment of MEF's LSO Sonata

The APIs allow carriers to reach beyond their physical networks to offer on-demand services, such as Carrier Ethernet or SD-WAN, to customers that are doing business outside of their own footprints. The LSO Sonata APIs enable the SDN network-to-network interfaces (NNI) engagements.

MEF is targeting the hyperscale providers as one of the primary use cases for LSO Sonata at the network edge. Menezes said that carriers, including telco and cable, have thousands of last mile endpoints that the cloud providers—Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google, to name the big three—lack.

"Now, the cloud guys recognize this," Menezes said. "They have to push their bits to the edges, and they don't have the assets and real estate to do that. So they're partnering with service providers to put their bits in there. And the service providers themselves are building a compute platform to not only distribute the cloud bits, as a service to the OTT providers, but also develop a platform that can deliver new services on the edge."

MEF has been working with hyperscale providers, which was evidenced by a Microsoft Azure executive delivering a keynote at MEF19, on conducting business at the edge.

With 5G, autonomous vehicles and IoT services and applications, low latency is the name of the game, according to Menezes. Telecom providers are working on their edge management use cases that include edge compute, storage and provisioning the network at the edge to in order to enable low latency.

Federated service providers could deliver those endpoints to the cloud providers using Sonata and Carrier Ethernet on the underlay. OTT cloud providers could provision, pre-order, activate and adjust bandwidth dynamically by partnering with network service providers at the network edge.

RELATED: CenturyLink's Dugan puts an edge on cloud strategy and MEF's LSO Sonata

CenturyLink CTO Andrew Dugan, who is on MEF's board of directors, said currently service providers can do some of the same things via their portals and on ramps to the cloud providers. This past summer, CenturyLink outlined its strategy for the use of 106 edge locations, and at MEF Dugan said customers have shown an interest in the edge use cases.  CenturyLink is targeting latency of 5 milliseconds at its edge locations.

RELATED: CenturyLink draws up its playbook for edge compute services

In terms of monetizing partnerships with cloud providers at the edge, Dugan said CenturyLink could sell them "space and power" and manage the hardware—he called it "metal-as-a-service— for the cloud partners.

Currently, service providers such as CenturyLink are using their own internally developed APIs, or the cloud providers APIs to do business, but Sonata would work both ways.

"Today you have to code against Microsoft, AWS, Google, Oracle and everyone else," said Colt's Mirko Voltolini, global head of network on demand and a member of MEF's board of directors. "Everyone has their own APIs. Using the Sonata API instead will allow us to replicate and get the benefits of standardization. That's the main driver.

"What is really important to us is that the connection to the cloud providers using Sonata to extend connectivity to the cloud providers will help us enable this type of connectivity with speed."

Voltolini said the cloud providers are coming to the realization that working with traditional network service providers would be a benefit to both. For example the cloud providers could expose network capabilities on their own platforms as an initial step to incorporating the service providers into their networks in order to let customers pick and choose the services that they want. 

To pull all of that off, Voltolini said the network service providers and the cloud service providers' sales teams would also need to learn how to collectively sell each other's services.

"We're doing some work with some hyperscaler providers where we are going to market together," Voltolini said. "The next step will be to make the on demand connectivity available with a click of a button from the cloud providers. That's the end game."

Federating the world's service providers is a tall task for MEF and would need buy-in from other large service providers such as Liberty Global and as well as the inclusion of small and medium-sized carriers as well. MEF will also need to expand its work with other open source communities and standard development organizations.

While AT&T, Verizon, Comcast Business and Charter Communications all collaborate within MEF, they would, at some point, compete against each other in provisioning cloud service providers over their respective last mile networks. Both telco and cable operators claim to have the competitive advantage at the network edge.

"The big picture is we have a lot to do as far as enabling that type of connectivity throughout the world," Voltolini said.

Editor's Corners are opinion columns written by a member of the Fierce editorial team. They are edited for balance and accuracy.