Orange walks the disaggregation walk with B2B access network revamp

  • Orange has been looking to get more flexibility and efficiency in its enterprise access network
  • It is shifting from “rigid” data network products to a disaggregated platform
  • The move will give it greater control and save money, says Orange executive
  • Edgecore Networks is the operator’s white box partner, while its operating system software comes from the open-source world

MADRID – Fyuz 2022 – While Open RAN has attracted a lot of attention as the primary use case for disaggregated networks, both over the past couple of years and during the first day of this event in Madrid, the shift towards the use of multivendor systems interconnected via open interfaces is evident in all parts of telecom networks. Today, Orange spoke about a network project that, it says, is delivering on economic and operational, as well as technical, fronts.

During a session focused on real-world developments by major network operators that are active within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which develops disaggregated network element blueprints and designs based on open networking principles and specifications from partner organisations, Jean-Louis Le Roux, vice president of global wholesale and enterprise networks at Orange, said a significant revamp of the technology that delivers high-bandwidth data services to enterprise customers was reaching the commercial network deployment stage. 

Talking about the plan to shake up its enterprise access network, Le Roux noted that the operator had launched a programme two years ago to transform its network from one based on “rigid box” technology to much more flexible systems that could enable the “introduction of massive automation of our provisioning. The plan included, initially, the disaggregation of the layer 2 access network. “We have a really dense network made up of thousands of switches that provide services to our business customers at 1Gbit/s, 10Gbit/s or 100Gbit/s” and those switches, which are located in hundreds of points of presence (PoPs) at the edge of the operator’s network, need to be swapped out, he said. 

In order to come up with the best solution, Orange contributed to TIP’s open optical and packet transport (OOPT) group, with Le Roux noting that the work at TIP is “really catalysing this project”.

And now Orange is nearing its initial deployments. “We are now in the middle of the project and have selected a white box vendor that is also contributing to TIP, Edgecore Networks, and we decided to rely on an open-source network operating system, SONiC, and have used our own software development team to customise this system,” he said. SONiC (software for open networking in the cloud) is an open-source network operating system based on Linux and developed by the Open Compute Project (OCP) and Microsoft, which allows operators to share the same software stack across multiple switch suppliers. 

“So now we have everything running in the lab and we’re going to rely on TIP to do more testing. The objective is to deploy [the new switches] live in our backbone network at the beginning of next year,” noted Le Roux. 

“We see major advantages to moving to this system. First, to simplify the control plane with the unique network operating system controlling several flavours of hardware. The second is the autonomy we gain – the sovereignty to manage ourselves. And then we see benefits in terms of costs, as we will save roughly 20% with this journey,” explained the Orange executive. 

“And finally we see a great opportunity to upskill our teams and we rely on TIP for this as well… to help us on this very exciting network optimisation journey,” he added. 

Edgecore, naturally, is happy with Orange’s development and noted in its own announcement about the project that its switches are pre-loaded with the Open Network Install Environment (ONIE) software that enables the “automated loading of compatible open-source or commercial network operating system offerings” onto its hardware.

“Edgecore’s switches running SONiC software provide the high-capacity throughput required for access networks,” noted the vendor’s president, Heimdall Siao. “By utilising Edgecore’s carrier-grade and proven robust designs, Orange is able to deploy solutions in the most demanding of carrier networks. This successful experience in Orange’s network proves that disaggregated open networking solutions are robust and capable of handling the most demanding of network environments,” he added. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV

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