Dell goes big on telco cloudification and automation

  • Ahead of MWC24, Dell flags upcoming launch of Dell Telecom Infrastructure Automation Suite, with Red Hat as initial plugin CaaS partner, and Wind River to follow later
  • It adds new capabilities to Dell Telecom Infrastructure Blocks, including support for far-edge workloads via Red Hat 2.0
  • Philippines’ Globe Telecom unveiled as Telecom Infrastructure Blocks customer
  • Another addition is Dell’s latest generation of telecom-optimised servers, using 4th Gen Intel Xeon scalable processors

It’s a puzzle. How do communications service providers (CSPs) fully realise the promised benefits of network ‘cloudification’ – lower total cost of ownership and greater agility in service provisioning – without skimping on reliability?

Dell Technologies, working with a growing roster of ecosystem partners, reckons it’s got solid answers as network operators target zero-touch operations in a cloud-native, multi-vendor environment.  “We’ve got tonnes of experience in disaggregated networks and cloud transformation,” asserted Andrew Vaz, VP of product management at Dell’s telecom systems business, during a telecom network cloud portfolio briefing call with the media ahead of MWC24.

For Vaz, the industry has reached an inflection point and Dell is well placed to address CSP anxiety surrounding cloud transformation of the network, all the way from the core to the far edge and RAN virtualisation.

“There are leaders and laggards across any type of transformation, but I firmly feel we’ve taken a significant step forward in terms of telecom operators not really asking anymore if [they] should transform,” observed Vaz. “They’re asking how [they] should transform and what [they] need to do to be successful.”

Dell’s focus is to develop tools that help to ease the operational difficulties in building and running telecom infrastructure, explained Vaz. 

Automation suite: A chip off the infrastructure block

The Dell Telecom Infrastructure Automation Suite, to be available “globally” by April 2024, is the latest addition to the company’s cloud-based offerings. “The goal,” noted Vaz, “is to take a look at the infrastructure portion of the stack [storage, compute, network and CaaS] and make it reliably automatable and easy to operate in a way that a modern telecom cloud operator would want it to be.”

Using Red Hat initially as the container-as-a-service (CaaS) provider – Wind River will apparently be made available later this year as an alternative CaaS plugin – the automation suite is a set of software tools designed to automate ‘day zero’, ‘day one’ and ‘day N’ of telecom lifecycle operations. Day zero covers installation of software and initiation; day one the configuration and activation of service; and day N covers upgrades, patching, scaling and monitoring.

According to Vaz, the jewels in the crown of the automation suite are flexibility and ease of use through a unified user interface. “We have a set of northbound APIs that we can integrate into any brownfield OSS/BSS domain orchestrators or SMOs [service and management orchestrators],” asserted Vaz. “We can just plug into them. We also have a set of southbound plugins for various different areas, including network, storage and compute capabilities to manage servers.”

Vaz, unsurprisingly perhaps, was not shy in referencing Dell’s bare metal orchestrator, which can purportedly remotely discover, deploy and manage “hundreds of thousands” of multivendor bare metal servers. “We also offer the ability to aggregate telemetry off multiple pieces of infrastructure and send that northbound to offer more and more functionality,” he enthused.

Telemetry information includes equipment temperature as well as CPU and memory utilisation. There’s scope, too, to build bespoke blueprints tailored to a customer’s workflow and workload requirements. “The architecture is very extensible [via plugins], very flexible and API driven,” he added. 

Dell frames the automation suite as an extension of the easy-to-deploy principles underpinning its existing infrastructure blocks, which aim to ease the CSP pain of ‘pre-day zero’ work in service lifecycle operations through pre-integrated solutions.

“We basically define the use cases, test the stack end to end, and do the validation and certification,” explained Vaz. “We then hand [the telecom infrastructure block] over to the operator so it gives them a jumpstart on offering a really solid cloud foundation layer.”

Vaz ruefully noted from discussions with some major Tier one operators that they can have up to four teams and take between six and nine months – “in some cases even longer” – to complete pre-day zero work.

On trial

Dell is already conducting trials of the automation suite, using it – in Vaz’s words – “‘as-a-platform” with several ecosystem partners. He flagged two examples: One with Amdocs, working in collaboration with a Tier one operator in EMEA, primarily focused on virtualised RAN; and another with digital solutions provider Calsoft.

“The EMEA operator wants to drive towards a zero-touch operations model,” said Vaz. “With Amdocs we’re plugging into its SMO, which calls the Dell Telecom Infrastructure Automation Suite. The first thing we do is deploy the bare metal servers and operating systems. The second thing is to deploy the CaaS [from Red Hat]. From there, the SMO will then go and deploy the vendor’s recommended RAN workload. It’s a nicely modular hierarchical automation system that an operator can use as they virtualise their RAN and want to deploy it in terms of a zero-touch methodology.”

In partnership with Calsoft, Dell is implementing closed-loop automation for server power optimisation. “We’re getting massive [CSP] requests around figuring out how to drive to a lower carbon footprint,” said Vaz.

More infrastructure block enhancements

Dell Telecom Infrastructure Blocks (which is integrated with the automation suite) will be able to run on Red Hat 2.0 from April, which means support for far-edge workloads.

Additionally, a Dell spokesperson told TelecomTV, “The solution [now] supports Dell’s latest generation of telecom-optimised servers, including Dell PowerEdge XR8000 and XR5610, giving telecom operators the ability to build their networks using Dell’s most powerful and energy-efficient servers with 4th Gen Intel Xeon scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost.” 

These processors are geared to deliver twice the performance in vRAN applications over the previous generation. “We have also developed several new energy-efficient features to improve cooling and reduce energy costs,” added the spokesperson.

Dell has previously not officially named any operator partners for its infrastructure suite – until today. Globe Telecom in the Philippines is a customer, and apparently a happy one. “We’re building an open, cloud-native network with multiple vendors, so we can deliver the best network experience for our customers,” said James Lim, VP of Globe’s core network planning, engineering and implementation, in prepared remarks. The process of “testing and integrating various vendors demands too much of our time and budget. That’s why we’re now partnering with Dell Telecom Infrastructure Blocks to do the validation and testing for us, so we can focus on how we can use our modern network to deliver services and benefits for our customers,” added Lim.

Rounding off its series of pre-MWC announcements, Dell has put in place an infrastructure block certification programme to certify 5G core, OSS, BSS and open RAN workloads in the Dell Open Telecom Ecosystem Lab. Initial partners achieving certification are 6D Technologies, Amdocs, Casa Systems, Expeto and Matrixx Software, all of which are supported on Dell Telecom Infrastructure Blocks.

- Ken Wieland, contributing editor reporting for TelecomTV

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