Open Networking Foundation unveils new open source edge and cloud platform

The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) has made a bold play into the enterprise sector with its open source edge and cloud platform, which is called Aether.

Aether pulls together various open source components to deliver connectivity-as-a-service over wireless spectrum such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) and licensed 4G or 5G.

"We think this is really significant and exciting," said ONF's Timon Sloane, vice president of marketing and ecosystem. "This is the first open source edge cloud platform. It's the first open platform that supports connectivity-as-a-service, which means a couple of things. It includes CBRS connectivity, and it also can support licensed spectrum connectivity simultaneously on one network. It includes an SD-RAN component, which is an open source RAN controller that's compliant with the O-RAN architecture.

"This is also the first platform that supports applications from all of the major cloud providers. The ambition here is to be able to take apps that are written to run on Amazon, or in Google Cloud, and be able to run those apps at the edge of the network without having to change the APIs."

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While Sloane and ONF are laying claim to a lot of industry firsts with Aether, it's worth noting that ONF operator members, such as AT&T, Comcast, NTT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Turk Telecom, Google and China Unicom, are backing it. In addition, ONF, Intel, GSLab, Infosys, and Accelleran are actively collaborating as a distributed DevOps team enhancing and maintaining Aether. 

"It's also the first platform that bundles all of this together, which is quite notable, bringing together edge cloud and private networks and CBRS and open RAN all into one platform, all under open source," Sloane said.  "We think this is really significant and enables a whole suite of new capabilities when you blend these capabilities together."

Over the past two months, the CBRS band in the United States has started to be used by cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Low-cost licensed bands for enterprises have also been released in Germany, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Using free and low cost spectrum allows enterprises, service providers and system integrators to build and manage their own low cost private networks.

Sloane said that Aether uses various open source components that ONF has been building over the past nine years, but the concept of Aether started in earnest late last year.

Aether is built on the CORD (Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter) and ONOS platforms and runs in an orchestrated Kubernetes environment. Aether disaggregates CORD and places the necessary elements at the edge or in the public cloud where they are then connected via the cloud providers' APIs.

Aether also uses ONF's mobile core (OMEC) to distribute the user and control planes across edge and central clouds. OMEC provides the capability for the control plane to oversea the control of multiple users planes at the remote edge locations to provision edge cloud-as-a-service deployments.

"Aether is made up of both a core site that runs in the public cloud, or a centralized cloud, and then a number of edge sites, and each edge site has these three critical components; the private 5G/LTE network component, the SD-RAN open RAN controller and the ability to run edge cloud applications," Sloane said. "Aether has control and management of the platform and a console to be able to manage this whole network in a unified way. The network is monitored, managed and maintained and individual user authentication and management and tracking is all done centrally.

"And then multiples of these sites can be run. They all run in this collective way, where the multiple edges are all orchestrated as one network from the core. It provides for seamless end user roaming, and edge application distribution, where applications can be pushed to the edge of the network to run close the users."

With low latency being the key to edge services, Aether is able to push bandwidth as needed to those edge locations without needing to back haul it to a public cloud. For policy, an enterprise may not want critical records or data, such as social security identification, going off premise. Aether gives enterprises and service providers the ability to contain that information.

"We are in effect democratizing the edge of the network and the edge cloud," Sloane said. "This makes it possible for traditional operators, cloud operators,  a new class of integrators, and even  enterprises themselves to easily build private networks with all of these capabilities."

Aether is currently deployed in a production pilot supporting edge cloud services at two ONF offices: Intel Labs, at InfoSys in Richardson, Texas, and Tech Mahindra in Dallas, Texas. The entire Aether deployment is maintained by ONF and ONF members using a distributed continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) and DevOps-based development pipeline.