For a guy whose title includes "network virtualization," Fran Heeran is surprisingly critical of the entire concept. In fact, he thinks it's time the telecom industry stops talking about virtualization altogether.
The man who heads up Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s network virtualization effort as group head would much prefer we all start talking about cloudification. That's one of many insights he shares in a phone interview, conducted last week. In part one, below, Heeran, the Group Head of Network Virtualization, SDN and NFV at Vodafone, provides an update on the carrier's virtualization efforts and shares why cloudification is really what matters.
Carol Wilson: Can you give us an update on Vodafone's virtualization efforts -- do you still call it Project Ocean?
Fran Heeran: Ocean was a nickname we gave within Vodafone. I'll talk about how we are looking at the IT transformation, the cloud and the network transformation.
Like most of those in the industry, we are looking at is IT and networks really that different, especially as you go toward cloud, and as we do this transformation how much commonality and consistency can we get between the two?
If you are talking about workloads running in a true cloud environment, some of them do have specialist requirements, on the network side, throughput and media processing and so on and specific issues around latency, but otherwise cloud is the great leveler, as far as we are concerned.
So increasingly, we are looking to move away from a network virtualization only story into a telco cloud story. This reflects the general sentiment among the rest of the industry. We can talk more about what that means technology-wise and organizationally but that's where we are going -- beyond Ocean vision into being a true cloud vision and how can that cloud accommodate different workload types.
CW: So where are you in that transition?
FH: We started more than two years ago -- David [Amzallag] was driving that originally, his vision. A lot of our focus has been on core network and taking those elements virtual.
What I say -- and I have been quite vocal about this -- I think the term virtualization and NFV is actually holding us back as an industry. We are all doing a lot more than simply virtualizing something; if that was the case we would have been finished years ago, taking something into a virtual machine, we think the job is done, we move on.
It's really about cloudification, so if anything, it should be NFC, network function cloudification, the first step of which was virtualization, which we did. The vendors did it and we did it in Vodafone three, four years ago.
And we focused on big network functions, so VoLTE was our first initiative in this area, that started about two years ago, taking VoLTE virtual and then into the cloud. And then we started looking at EPC, those are the big two areas where we will get most of our savings, has been the main focus for Vodafone.
Those deployments are underway in Vodafone across the group. As you can imagine, for a group as big as ours it tends to happen on different time frames based on different markets.
We did it at the core, and taking core to cloud, we are really focused on those two and then the next step, which I'm sure is true for everybody else, is going to be the 5G core. The 5G core is going to be fully virtualized, fully cloudified as we deploy 5G. We haven't shared those time frames and we certainly won't be, but you can imagine a pretty active program within Vodafone.
And that is on the core side. When we talk about doing that and why we are doing it, it is completely focused on cost savings -- on the capex savings you get from doing cloud and doing cloud properly, which means a shared infrastructure, shared compute, where before we built silos and those silos would have redundancy and spared capacity for each service.
We are now looking at a much more horizontal model where it is a general compute environment, a lot more consistency than you would have seen before in the telco industry. And then as those services, whether it's VoLTE, whether it's EPC, whether it's GI LAN in the future, as they need to grow or cater for failure or switchover, they can do that in a much more efficient manner in this shared environment.
And that is all about how much can we save on the capex side in terms of how we build our infrastructure and how we handle our demand planning. It is well underway; we are well down the road with VoLTE and EPC and 5G will follow.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading