Alcatel promises better clouds for carriers

Alcatel-Lucent is developing a cloud computing platform for carriers that aims to take full advantage of their networks to deliver guaranteed performance.

Carriers can use the platform, called CloudBand, both to run their own software and to offer cloud computing services to enterprises. For internal purposes, the cloud can make it faster and cheaper to launch and operate services, and for subscribers it will offer more predictable performance than current clouds, according to Alcatel. Carriers will be able to sell cloud computing services with guaranteed availability and response times, the company says.

Service providers already can build their own cloud data centers and link them to their infrastructure, which can provide an edge in performance over using the open Internet, said Dor Skuler, vice president of cloud solutions at Alcatel. But CloudBand goes beyond this with software that examines a wide range of conditions and user requirements to find the best settings for a given application at a certain time.

Meeting a customer’s service-level agreement might require giving certain packets a higher priority, setting a higher quality of service, setting aside a portion of network bandwidth or using a server in a particular location. “There’s so many choices, and you have limited resources,” Skuler said. CloudBand can determine how those resources can best be used.

At the heart of CloudBand is the CloudBand Management System, based on algorithms developed by Bell Labs, the former Lucent and AT&T research center. It takes into consideration factors such as server load, network congestion and latency to make sure service-level agreements are met, Skuler said.

The other component of CloudBand is the CloudBand Node, the set of computing, storage, virtualization and cloud management components at each cloud facility on the network. Alcatel will work with Hewlett-Packard, under a 10-year global partnership, to build sets of gear optimized for use with CloudBand. But carriers can implement CloudBand without buying that particular data center gear, Skuler said.

Alcatel envisions carriers taking advantage of their networks to set up CloudBand Nodes in locations near the edges of their networks. These would work in the same way as local content caches, in this case giving enterprises in that area quicker access to cloud resources, Skuler said.

Carriers will also be able to take advantage of public-cloud capacity where they don’t have the resources to serve a customer, or where that cloud is less expensive, he added.

Using the same cloud it builds for subscriber services, a carrier can virtualize its own infrastructure for delivering standard services such as voice, video and SMS (Short Message Service), Skuler said. These types of offerings today are powered by dedicated hardware, making it expensive and time-consuming to roll out a new service. Deploying them on a cloud will make it faster and easier to start up and expand a service using virtualized resources, he said.

Alcatel plans to make CloudBand generally available to carriers in the first half of next year, following trial deployments starting early in the year. It’s already using the technology to deliver its own hosted telecommunications services for carriers. Initially, CloudBand will depend on Alcatel network gear, but the company is working with groups such as ATIS (Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions) and the Internet Engineering Task Force on standards that would let it extend to other vendors’ equipment, Skuler said.

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