Communications Service Providers (CSPs) began their virtualization journey approximately 10 years ago with the initial move of core networks to private clouds. This move to an x86-based, data center typical server environment was a departure from a focused purpose, customized hardware platforms. Instead, rack designs were dimensioned and standardized for multiple Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) to co-exist in the same cloud, on common hardware, where multiple purpose-built hardware solutions were previously required.
With this transition complete in the core network, attention has shifted to the Radio Access Network (RAN), with the same promise of migration from multi-vendor, purpose build hardware solutions to a common base hardware platform, with a cloud abstracting the details of the underlying hardware. This will maintain a competitive, multi-vendor RAN software ecosystem and allow CSPs to decouple hardware from software to create even more vendor competition and opportunities to select best-in-class solutions.
The O-RAN Alliance has taken up the quest to transform the RAN into an open, intelligent, virtualized and multi-vendor interoperable network. While the O-RAN Alliance does call out Commercial-Off-The-Self (COTS) servers/storage/networking for regional cloud deployments, a very different environment can exist at the edge.
Typical Telecom Edge Data Center (DC) deployments scale up from the site support cabinets and concrete huts, that you’ll typically see at the base of most every cell site in more suburban and rural deployments, to micro and container DCs. These enclosures scale from a few rack units (RU) to several or even hundreds of racks. These sites typically have the same infrastructure components that you find in a large data center. All the components of a traditional data center were scaled down to a smaller, more focused deployment. However, the availability (tiering as defined by the Uptime Institute) of the site is not on par with the larger data centers due to the cost of providing full redundancy for so many distributed sites. These sites are typically designed in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 level, with expected uptimes in the 99.6-99.7% range, or about 1.5 days of outage per year.
Of course, with the increasing densities and redundancies of more data center-like environments comes an increase in infrastructure costs. This is the balance that telecom operators struggle with when planning to deploy an edge compute infrastructure.
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