Cloud Provider Commentary

Nov 23 2011   11:11AM GMT

ALU to cloud providers: Let’s talk about something besides the data center

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati Profile: Jessica Scarpati

Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) has recently announced a cloud software and hardware package that it calls CloudBand, and here’s the first thing you need to know about it: Non-network operators need not apply.

Alcatel-Lucent, which has a strong foothold with the telcos, is laying its new “carrier cloud solution” at the feet of network operators. Its vision is for operators to look beyond the cloud data center and give the network a starring role in cloud provisioning.

“By leveraging the power of the network, [operators] can actually offer a brand new tier of service and SLAs attached to service — guaranteed performance, guaranteed bandwidth, latency optimization, jitter optimization — that can only really be achieved if you … look at the connectivity layer and the compute/storage layer together,” said Dor Skuler, vice president of cloud services at Alcatel-Lucent.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have personal hangups about the word “solution,” so let’s break down what CloudBand actually is.

In short, it consists of two products: the CloudBand Management System, a cloud automation and orchestration software product, and the CloudBand Node, a preconfigured rack of servers and storage devices manufactured by other vendors (ALU will only confirm HP as one, but not the only one). Operators that have already deployed cloud infrastructure aren’t required to buy the node, and the management/orchestration software can interoperate with any legacy management software that has an open API, Skuler said.

ALU designed the CloudBand portfolio to be the launchpad for customer-facing cloud services and for enabling operators to use cloud technologies internally (to improve the efficiency of their own operations). To the latter point, Skuler said operators may use CloudBand to collapse many of their network service elements (that traditionally required dedicated hardware devices) into software instances. Sound familiar? It’s one of the basic tenets of the lightRadio product line that ALU announced earlier this year.

Skuler somewhat downplayed the hardware during our conversation, instead emphasizing that the cloud management and orchestration software is really the star of the show — combining the network and the cloud into a single management system and “orchestrating” (or coordinating) elements of a given service within a distributed architecture of many (relatively) small cloud “nodes.”

Lost? Head hitting the desk? Yeah, let’s put this in plain English (or as close to it as we can get):

“We believe the service provider cloud should look different from the ‘regular’ cloud … meaning it shouldn’t be one big data center, but [instead should be] distributed into cloud nodes,” Skuler said. “We treat those holistically or logically as one big cloud connected together … so we can automatically, on-demand, stitch a VPN together from [a customer’s] data center to the service provider cloud … or automatically configure a router to give [a customer] QoS” when a customer subscribes or makes changes to the operator’s cloud service.

Like many cloud providers across the market, network operators are in no rush to compete with the no-frills IaaS crowd. If ALU delivers on all that it promises, it may offer carriers a path to cloud/network integration nirvana.

ALU will begin field trials with CloudBand in the beginning of 2012, and general availability is slated for the first half of the year.

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