CORD: The $300 Billion Opportunity at the Network Edge

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — CORD, the effort to transform sites at the network edge into modern data centers, represents a $300 billion opportunity for a range of vendors from software developers to white box and networking suppliers and system integrators.

This, according to Timon Sloane, VP of marketing and ecosystem at the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), who spoke at the Telecom Council Carrier Connections (TC3) summit on Wednesday.

CORD, which stands for central office re-architected as a data center, is an ONF project. Central offices are “the windowless, lights-out buildings at the edge of the network,” Sloane said. “If [operators] have 50 backbones, they have 5,000 of these edge sites.”

The project uses white-box hardware, and open source software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) software to bring data center economics and cloud agility to the telco central office. White boxes provide subscriber connectivity with control functions virtualized in the cloud.

There’s usually one central office within three miles of every home, Sloane added. And the equipment inside is decades old.

“But in terms of an opportunity, this is where the operators connect to their customers,” Sloane said. “This is the touchpoint where you can deliver services, control the quality of experiences, and compete with the over-the-top players because a Netflix doesn’t have this. Eighty percent of the spending is at the edge of the network.”

Some 70 percent of respondents to an IHS Markit 2016 survey plan to deploy CORD in their central offices. And virtually every major service provider globally is in early field deployments with some elements of CORD. In the U.S. this includes AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Comcast, CenturyLink, and Google.

“These are early days,” Sloane said. “But this is also the time of opportunity. This is the time to figure out how to get involved in this ecosystem.”

With such a huge market for edge services and infrastructure, a wide range of companies can start angling for a piece of the $300 billion pie.

CORD Ecosystem Vendors

Application vendors sit at the top of this list, Sloane said. These include companies that provide virtual network function (VNF) and edge services, along with multi-access edge computing (MEC) vendors.

For example, Akamai, which participated in the first public demo of CORD by AT&T and ON.Lab at the Open Networking Summit in 2015, is currently in trials to deliver a content delivery network (CDN) using CORD edge services, Sloane said.

White-box suppliers have a role to play in this market as well.

Just last week, Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT) launched its new data center infrastructure geared toward telcos. QCT’s white-box hardware running open software will make it easier for carriers to deploy NFV and other CORD elements, Mike Yang, president of QCT, told SDxCentral in an interview.

Last month Edgecore Networks contributed its white-box hardware design for a disaggregated 10-gigabit PON optical line terminal (OLT) to the Open Compute Project (OCP) Foundation’s Telco Group. The OLT is the endpoint hardware device in a passive optical network (PON).

“It will allow service providers to implement CORD infrastructure and deliver 10G PON services to their subscribers,” explained Bill Burge, VP of business development at Edgecore Networks.

Additionally, system integrators have a business opportunity in CORD, Sloane said. “The operators need help, and they are willing to pay for this help. There’s a huge demand, and we can’t fulfill the demand right now.”

Photo: Timon Sloane, ONF VP of marketing and ecosystem, talks CORD at the TC3 summit.