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Manx Telecom has slashed the time it takes to develop and deploy new networking services to its customer base after adopting VMware’s network functions virtualisation (NFV) platform to replace an elderly Alcatel-Lucent IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) – the part of the infrastructure that underpins its voice network services.
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Manx Telecom is the main incumbent telecoms provider on the Isle of Man, and offers standard consumer services such as fixed line, mobile and broadband to a local population of about 90,000 people.
The island’s pro-business taxation regime means the company also serves a large number of enterprise customers with global footprints with worldwide connectivity and hosting services.
Kevin Paige, Manx Telecom CIO, said the Isle of Man’s entrepreneurial environment and innovative business community means the telco likes to take a similarly innovative outlook to keep up with its corporate customers’ demands.
With a brief to bring new services to market quickly, improve business agility, cut network operating costs and improve customer experience, Paige started work on a major network upgrade two years ago as the IMS service came to the end of its useful life.
“Some people come to NFV through looking at new services, but we had an end-of-life infrastructure, so it was more a technology evaluation process,” he told Computer Weekly.
“We started to look at other alternatives, more widely than the incumbent and traditional telco guys like Huawei, and we found more interesting opportunities to do what we were looking for away from telecoms suppliers, on a software-as-a-service [SaaS] model,” said Paige.
The first element of the project was the development of a joint VMware-Cisco architecture to replace the creaking IMS. Paige chose VMware partly because Manx Telecom already uses the supplier’s technology in many other parts of the business, so it was a known quantity.
“There was an opportunity to select NFV from traditional telco suppliers, but it would have been closed and we couldn’t have run our own services over it,” he said. “VMware could meet the challenge of replacing our end-of-life IMS as well as giving us a platform to use in the future.”
The revitalisation of the network required both Manx’s cloud and networking teams to work closely together, said Paige, but this proved less of a challenge than one might think.
“We set a responsibility framework to ensure the infrastructure up to the hypervisor would be the responsibility of our cloud hosting team,” he said. “We communicated to the telco team their role, to make sure the software and service architecture works properly.
“It was useful for us that we have a hosting business and a team used to running and managing VMware products.
“It was not a big leap for the hosting guys, just a new platform for them, but the telco guys were used to owning the network end to end, so it was quite a shift for them to give away half of that stack. As we went through the education, training and transition process, we made sure they got a complete grounding in virtualisation technology.”
Three months to deployment
One of Manx Telecom’s first big tasks after adopting the VMware platform was to implement 4G roaming software for its customers.
Before NFV, this would have taken a lot of strategic planning, said Paige. “But with an NFV architecture, we can now say we like this supplier’s software products, so we’ll open up a virtual environment to do a proof of concept and miss out on months and months of high-level design,” he added.
“In the old world, six months would be the norm. It’s more like three months with NFV.”
The telco has also been taking advantage of the VMware platform’s scalability to add more network capacity during times of peak demand. This proved particularly beneficial during the annual TT motorcycle races, when the island’s population can triple.
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Although not every process has yet been moved onto the platform, Manx Telecom is also reaping the benefits when changing its own internal processes. For example, the centralisation of resources means there is “no new hardware, no shipping costs, no fiddling around in datacentres”, said Paige.
This consolidation also means one single platform can support multiple customer-facing services, all holistically controlled and managed to cut the operational costs associated with the previous end-to-end service approach.
Paige is already looking to extend the NFV cloud platform architecture as and when other elements of the network core reach the end of their working lives, and eventually hopes to start moving Manx Telecom’s IT infrastructure onto the platform to integrate it better with its telecom services.