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NSN extending Liquid Radio concepts to entire network


Nokia Siemens Networks today unveiled its broadband roadmap, building off of the distributed networking and software-based approach of its Liquid Radio architecture (CP: Nokia Siemens pours out Liquid Radio). Spanning access, core and transport networks, Liquid Net is intended to shift the telecommunications network away from a design philosophy that emphasizes a bunch of purpose-built boxes into one in which the network itself becomes a set of applications built on common generic hardware platforms.

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That same transformation has been occurring for some time in computing with applications emphasized far more than the hardware they run on, but telecom has been far more resistant to the trend, facing performance requirements that have necessitated integrating applications directly itno the hardware they run on. But NSN Head of Network Systems Strategic Product Marketing Chris Ebert said the telecom industry also must evolve.

The industry can no longer continue to build dedicated elements that serve singular functions and scale only as far as their allotted capacity, Ebert said. Rather, a dynamic architecture is needed, he said, that allocates resources to the applications and functions demanded by the network at any given time or location. “Each element, each function has to be able to sense not only the current load it faces, but also the overall health of the network at any given moment,” Ebert said.

Hence the name for the architecture: Liquid. The network needs to be liquid in two senses, Ebert said:

· Networks can no longer be built for the worst-case scenario. A network designed to meet the highest traffic demands at one point in the day will have a lot of unused capacity the remainder of the day. Rather than build base stations and core gateways for these worst cases, the network needs a set of ‘liquid’ resources which ‘flow’ to wherever needed, thus allowing operators to design their networks with a fraction of the capacity they do today, Ebert said.

· Networks need be liquid in the sense that they can dynamically change their purpose as different applications or functions are demanded. Instead of replicating the same hardware elements at every point in the network, carriers could adopt flexible hardware platforms with application-agnostic processing resources. For instance, during a major sporting event, a critical score could suddenly produce thousands of mobile requests for a single streamed replay of the goal. The core gateway serving the base stations near the event could recognize what happened and transform itself instant into a content delivery network, caching the video near the edge of the network, Ebert said.

NSN already has several elements of Liquid Net in place, the most obvious of which is Liquid Radio. The new radio access network (RAN) architecture incorporates the resource pooling principles laid out in Liquid Net, removing baseband processing from the cell site and installing it in a private cloud. As cell sites become congested, baseband resources flow to those sites, and continue moving from site to site, following traffic demand through the network. Alcatel-Lucent has developed similar concepts in its lightRadio architecture (CP: ALU’s new building block architecture does away with the base station).

On the core side, Nokia Siemens started its migration to Liquid Net years ago when it decided to overhaul its mobile gateway design. Starting with the evolved packet core (EPC), NSN began designing its core elements on a common Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA), while vendors like Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent chose to build their 4G cores on IP router architectures (Telephony: Mobile Core Wars). NSN’s ATCA platform can now support the functions of the entire EPC, elements of the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) service delivery network, policy management and specialized functions such as deep packet inspection and content delivery networks.

To link all of those disparate ‘applications’ together, NSN has built an end-to-end network management system called NetAct, a self-aware, self-adapting platform that can reconfigure the virtualized network to confront any scenario in real time.

NSN, however, plans to add more elements to Liquid Net shortly, including incorporating its legacy gateway platforms into the mix. As Ebert points out, Liquid Net runs the same software as its older products—it’s just been entirely virtualized, severed from the underlying hardware.

Beyond the next few years, NSN plans to take its software-defined approach even further. While Liquid Net’s hardware is multipurpose today, it is still linked to a single architecture, ATCA, which NSN has shaped into its hardware platform. NSN hopes, Ebert said, to evolve Liquid Net so it is can work on other multi-purpose hardware platforms. The end result would be NSN becoming entirely a software company. Its customers would buy off the shelf hardware from any vendor, onto which they would merely load NSN’s network.


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