ONF is gearing up for new edge cloud, 5G initiatives

Following up on the launch of a new strategic plan in March, the Open Networking Foundation is now taking a hard look at edge cloud and 5G initiatives.

ONF Chair Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer, outlined several hot topic projects that the ONF is pursuing in a newsletter to ONF's members. In addition to edge cloud and 5G, ONF is also looking at how it could be an open source arm for the O-RAN Alliance and transitioning mobile CORD toward ONF's reference design initiative.

ONF is driven by its operator membership, which includes AT&T, China Unicom, Comcast, Google, Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, NTT Group and Turk Telecom. Last month, ONF announced four new specific reference designs that now serve as templates to create use cases for edge cloud implementations.

While "edge cloud" had earned almost buzzword status in the telecommunications industry, ONF has been playing in that arena for some time, according to ONF's Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem. The current buzz around edge cloud is related to initiatives in edge computing and communications, but ONF's work in CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) was already on the same page as edge cloud.

RELATED: ONF adds new partners, edge and access cloud reference designs to its strategic plan

"So the (ONF) board recognizes that the work that the ONF has been doing over the last few years around CORD is essentially early work in edge cloud before it was called edge cloud," Sloane said. "CORD is really an ideal platform for building out and building on the edge cloud concept. CORD is all about using all the best cloud, SDN and NFV approaches at the edge of the network. That's what we've been doing for over four years now.

"It's just now that this term, edge cloud, is suddenly becoming so well-known and used so often. So in recognizing that, the board is saying, 'Hey, you've got this platform in CORD, and it's very well-suited to the edge cloud. Let's more formally continue to pursue edge cloud and expand our initiatives around the edge cloud.'"

Service providers have also been talking about moving toward a more cloud-native approach, and Sloane said that CORD was the epitome of cloud-native.

"The most recent release of CORD is fully embracing and supporting Kubernetes, which is kind of the hottest, latest thing in cloud native," Sloane said. "So CORD from the very beginning has been cloud native in principle and in the way we approach and do everything."

Feutsch wrote in the newsletter that ONF's operator-based board of directors has officially asked ONF to pursue edge cloud more formally through its reference designs and CORD components. The goal is the creation of an access and edge cloud that combines access technologies with edge cloud capabilities.

"The board’s direction for the ONF is to (1) identify and focus on a few compelling use cases or applications especially in enterprise IoT space, (2) identify a high-level architecture aligned with our reference designs that can implement those use cases, and (3) investigate how CORD components can serve in the edge architecture, including how the architecture and CORD components relate to other edge initiatives and where the ONF architecture and CORD components offer a unique value proposition," Fuetsch wrote.

Sloane said ONF's technology leadership team (TLT), which is a subcommittee of the board of directors that oversees all the ONF projects and the reference design process, was exploring both edge cloud and 5G.

"Essentially the TLT builds the community by bringing in operators and then like-minded supply chains and partners to pursue initiatives," Sloane said. "The first thing we do with almost anything is we build an operator group. The operator group is a set of operators that are committed to investing in and deploying a common platform. 'Common' is an important word there. So there are multiple operators saying that if we build this thing, if we can find a common intersection of our interests and communally invest in building something, then we all win. We get there faster. It's better. It's cheaper. We all get it to market faster."

On the 5G front, Fuetsch wrote that there has been strong operator interest and commitment for mobile CORD (M-CORD). A proposal has been made to move M-CORD toward being another ONF reference design, and the TLT is working to establish the process for adding new reference design use cases. The operator group that supports M-CORD will be formed.

Alliance with O-RAN

The TLT is also exploring a relationship with the O-RAN Alliance, which wa.

s formed earlier this year after the xRAN Forum and the C-RAN Alliance merged. ONF and O-RAN share common service provider members, and Fuetschis also the chairman of the O-RAN Alliance.

"About a year and a half ago, the ONF announced a partnership with xRAN," Sloane said. "The ONF has an open-source xRAN controller that is one of our projects that's based on ONOS and is integrated with the CORD.

"O-RAN is not an open source group. It's more around standardization and architectural definitions and how to build a next-generation cloud-native RAN. The ONF is really an open source group. We believe that the ONF is well-suited to be the open source arm for O-RAN. Given the common operators that we both have and the xRAN historical relationship, we see a really bright future for that type of partnership."

Sloane said a possible partnership with the O-RAN Alliance could be several months out as the O-RAN Alliance works through its initial stages.

Reference design update

The reference designs that were announced last month were SDN Enabled Broadband Access (SEBA); NFV Fabric; Unified, Programmable and Automated Network; and Open Disaggregated Network. Assembling the components of the reference designs enables proof-of-concept trials and tests, which ONF calls "exemplar platforms."

The exemplar platforms were designed to make it easy to download, modify, trial and deploy components of the reference designs in order to speed up adoption and deployment.

Fuetsch wrote in the newsletter that the ONF board was "quite pleased" with the progress of the reference designs and had recently formalized the procedures by which the reference designs "will be reviewed, approved, licensed and made available to ONF members."

"We have things that are carrying live customer traffic and starting to scale better output today so this is becoming a reality," Sloane said. "There are early versions of SEBA out there. SEBA is basically variants of R-CORD (residential CORD) that are out there. Also, variants of the NFV-Fabric are out there in production.

"SEBA has a ton of momentum and operators investing in it, and the expectation is that it's going to be a common platform that a number of operators start to really deploy and start to scale in the near future. Early things are hitting the field this year and next year could be a real growth year."

Membership evolving

Fuetsch pointed out that ONF's membership had shifted after it announced its new strategic plan in March. Sloane said that some of the incumbent members took a step back by opting out of being full partners, but they are still members.

"It's not that people have left, but our membership has shifted some," he said. "We're now starting to see a shift in how the supply chain is participating, and some of the incumbents are participating with a little bit less enthusiasm. But we have other large players that are seeing a huge opportunity here and they're stepping forward and saying they want to participate more aggressively."

Last month, Adtran, Dell EMC, Edgecore Networks and Juniper Networks signed up as formal supply partners of the ONF. Those vendors will each pay $500,000 a year with a five-year commitment. Sloane said ONF was talking to other vendors, but ONF feels as though it has what it needs for the short term.

"We've kind of largely felt like we're at critical mass for the major reference designs that are being pursued," he said. "Our philosophy, our strategy, at the ONF is to drive disruption and to drive the transformation of the industry. The operators are intent on using open-source, white box and disaggregation to push that forward."