We’re witnessing a rapid evolution in the telecommunications industry, as operators and communications service providers (CSPs) undergo network transformations involving tech trends such as NFV, SDN, and the cloud. As CSPs begin to upgrade and enhance their IT infrastructure, they need to make sure that their services offer high performance, high quality, and high reliability.
Charles Ferland, Lenovo vice president and general manager, telco, talks about the importance of leveraging Lenovo’s existing CSP relationships and focusing the company’s strengths on the operations and engineering aspects of the network transformation equation—bundling reliable, scalable, and performant solutions.
SDxCentral: Where do you see the opportunities in the industry when it comes to CSPs? Are there trends that stand out to you?
Charles Ferland: There’s definitely a transformation happening for CSPs. First, there’s a strong focus on introducing computational power on the edge of the network to enable new use cases. There’s 5G coming soon, of course, but even now we’re seeing a lot of computational power moving outside the data center, outside the cloud, toward the edge (closer to where data originates) to enable new services and new revenue for the service provider. Edge computing is something we’re seeing happening to service providers around the world.
These trends help with the monetization of CSPs’ services. I’ll give you an example: Imagine a service that monitors license plates throughout a city—such a solution requires many digital cameras to capture footage, but it also requires a lot of bandwidth to bring all of those video feeds to a centralized data center for video processing. So, the opportunity for the CSP is to introduce server capabilities at the edge of the network, close to the camera. When the cameras are filming streets, they can then send the video feed to those compute resources at the edge, use cards like a graphic process unit (GPU) to process the video frame, take a snapshot of the license place, and track just that license plate rather than backhaul the entire video feed to a central location. What that enables for the CSP is a new way to provide services and improve the monetization of those services.
SDxCentral: What is Lenovo’s strategy for CSPs?
Charles Ferland: Lenovo has existing relationships with more than 150 CSPs around the world. Mainly, our relationship has been about selling IT solutions to CSPs, but our strategy today is to leverage the relationship that we’ve developed as a trusted supplier and start introducing our product on the operations, engineering, and telco side of the house. These solutions used to be specialized appliances. now, with NFV and SDN, we’re seeing these functions running on traditional servers, and Lenovo can be one of the suppliers for that part of CSPs’ business.
To perform that role, we’re developing reference architecture to make it easier for CSPs to deploy these solutions in their footprint. We have a solution block or reference architecture that is tested, validated, and supported, and that removes a lot of the risk for the CSP, which can now implement NFV and SDN strategy using a much easier and less risky solution, so that they can focus on the business aspect rather than the infrastructure aspect of putting it all together.
Also, let’s not forget the network edge. Lenovo is very focused on developing a portfolio that is meant to serve use cases outside the data center that reside in central offices or even in wireless base stations.
SDxCentral: What is Lenovo’s role in CSP and telco digital and network transformation?
Charles Ferland: Lenovo is primarily a hardware supplier. We design and manufacture equipment, servers, storage and networking appliances that can be used to build these infrastructures either on the digital/IT side or on the network transformation side, which is really the important for these CSPs.
Although a lot of our products focus on the IT aspect, right now we’re putting together many solutions that are part of the operations aspect—for example, evolved packet core (EPC) and virtual IMS solutions. These are solutions that are meant to help CSPs consume as a block, so they can buy hardware and trusted, third-party software that has been pre-tested on our equipment. One of the important aspects for CSPs to managing all this is that multiple vendors can be involved, and things can get very complicated. Lenovo’s premier support service provides all the necessary testing and validation, so CSPs have just one support contact, one phone number to call. We can support all the hardware and software in the solution, and we can handle a case from start to finish—no hoops to jump through or multiple vendors to contact.
SDxCentral: What is unique about Lenovo’s offerings for CSPs? Why should they care?
Charles Ferland: At first glance, a Lenovo server might look like any other server, but there are a lot of differences in how we build a physical server. Our background is built on more than 30 years of experience and in 2014, Lenovo acquired the IBM System X division, and that became a strong pillar of our server strategy. A lot of IBM’s long-time innovation and expertise is now a part of our DNA.
When we look at the primary ways we differentiate ourselves from the competition, we first look at performance. Lenovo holds more than 127 world records for application performance, ranging from SAP HANA to SQL Server databases to many other applications—far ahead of any competitor when it comes to optimizing applications. It’s really a question of craftsmanship, getting the most performance out of the application on physical hardware, and also avoiding using hardware that is unnecessary for performing a task. Lenovo also holds the top spot in Top500’s supercomputer list of HPC manufacturers.
Again, everybody has similar servers, but what sets us apart is Lenovo’s ability to get optimal performance out of a given application; it’s really a testament to the design and engineering devoted to our solutions. This is important to CSPs because we’re not talking about any applications; this equipment is running the CSPs’ core infrastructure, and it’s vital to get the strongest performance possible.
Something else that makes Lenovo relevant to the CSP is our focus on reliability. Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC) conducts an annual survey of more than 750 CIOs in 20 countries, and for 10 years in a row, Lenovo is the only x86 server manufacturer to achieve five 9s of reliability—again, not just running any application but rather core infrastructure.
Finally, the scale of our supply chain and our operations is a differentiator. Six of the top ten hyperscaler companies in the world run on Lenovo. So we do have expertise rolling out tens and hundreds of thousands of servers—we can tackle telco environments of any scale.
SDxCentral: With Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona right around the corner, what is Lenovo showcasing there this year?
Charles Ferland: MWC is an important event for CSPs. We’ll have a lot of solutions and partnerships to announce and discuss there, but I want to highlight three of them.
- We’re going to demonstrate first end-to-end, indoor picocell network. We joined the OpenRAN organization in October 2018 and secured the Cochair of the Cloudification and Orchestration Workgroup. Part of the OpenRAN organization is to publish specs and a reference architecture to build a radio network based on open standards. At MWC Barcelona we’ll show what we believe is the first OpenRAN virtualized 5G wireless network—we call it picocell network—that we’ve developed in partnership with China Mobile, Intel, and Baicells.
- At the Intel booth, we’ll showcase specific edge-computing use cases utilizing Intel’s RackScale Design (RSD) to process traffic more effectively and efficiently. While on the subject of Intel RSD, we’ve been working on a joint innovation program with Orange—a European service provider—for the past year, focusing on use cases that utilize Intel RSD. Specifically we’ve focused on telco use cases and finding the optimal power consumption to performance ratio. Often, in the edge environment, the power envelope is not as big as what we’d like it to be, so the ability to adjust the ratio between high performance and energy consumption is very important.
- At our booth, we’ll be showcasing multi-access edge computing (MEC) use cases utilizing Lenovo virtual reality (VR) headsets.. This demo will show how VR computation at the edge really enhances the experience because it removes the delay that users perceive when they move their VR headset around. It makes a big difference when the computation is near the user.