IP Infusion Network Disaggregation Blog Series:

What is Network Disaggregation?

One of the most compelling trends in the networking industry is Network Disaggregation, which achieves unprecedented agility, and choice, while significantly driving down costs. To highlight an entirely new way of thinking about networking, IP Infusion is pleased to announce the Network Disaggregation Blog Series, which examines disaggregation from a number of perspectives.

Our goal is to inform customers, partners, and the broader networking community on why network disaggregation is emerging, and why now is the right time to capitalize on the many benefits.

In the first post, we introduce the concept of network disaggregation, examine how it is being implemented in practice, and set the stage for the posts to come.

What is Network Disaggregation?

Open networking has been characterized by a series of highly ambiguous terms- virtualization, automation, and openness itself, among them. At a recent webinar on the topic: Transforming 5G Networks With Disaggregated Cell Site Gateways Heavy Reading defined network disaggregation as:

The separation of networking equipment into functional components and allowing each component to be individually deployed:

  • Encompasses separation of software OS from underlying hardware
  • Requires open APIs to enable SDN control

Network disaggregation may be applied throughout the entire network as illustrated in Figure 1. There are many tools at each layer, and operators and vendors may capitalize on some or all of them

Figure 1: Disaggregation applies throughout the network

Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are disaggregating the entire telecommunications network. Among the world’s largest operators, including AT&T identify disaggregation as essential to their network transformation strategy.

In the mobility network, the race is on to disaggregate and virtualize the Radio Access Network (RAN), and mobile transport, driven by multiple industry groups, including the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Open Optical & Packet Transport (OOPT) and O-RAN Alliance.  The result is a diverse set of requirements traditionally is addressed with purpose-built devices.

Disaggregation offers a much less costly alternative- a common platform- capable of assuming a distinct profile depending on where it is deployed. The result is fewer fixed-function devices, and lower Total Cost of Ownership.

Figure 2 depicts a high-level view of a disaggregated networking device. Fundamental to network disaggregation are properly selected abstractions that decouple software and hardware components, making them much simpler to swap and replace. Hardware abstractions

Figure 2: Network Disaggregation- Functional Components

mask the details for the Network Operating System (NOS) platform to integrate with networking silicon sourced from multiple vendors. Similarly, another abstraction decouples the

hardware platform details from the NOS, which opens the door to a wide range of devices from a range of ODMs.

Mobile operators are increasingly adopting disaggregated platforms to support a range of use cases. Highly scalable white box platforms sourced by multiple global Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs), are enabling the disaggregation of the RAN, Mobile Transport, and Mobile Core. This has significantly increased the number of functional nodes, which necessitates greater flexibility in the mobile platforms.

Highly integrated components are being disaggregated as well. Multi-Source Agreements (MSA) benefit operators by providing an extensible range of pluggable optical transceiver modules that afford the degree of choice that operators and OEMs are seeking. The result is a multi-billion USD market that essentially has precluded any proprietary alternative to emerge.

Another tool for disaggregation is open source software. For instance, open network acceleration not only opens the door to a wide range of hardware, but does so without compromising costs. Acceleration projects including the Data Plane Developer’s Kit (DPDK), Universal Data Plane (FDio), Open Fast Path (OFP), have been widely deployed, yielding substantial CapEx performance, and OpEx reduction, while reducing the demands on space, power, cooling, etc.

Open software integration is facilitated by software abstractions that expose Intent-based APIs which decouple the underlying platform and communications details from the applications that utilize the network. Open APIs enable orchestration for software-driven services, and underlying automation. In addition, open APIs facilitate application portability from one disaggregated hardware platform to another.

Numerous operators have adopted the TMForum’s Open APIs  that have been utilized as the basis of the MEF Lifecycle Service Orchestration LSO APIs as well. In addition, Netconf and YANG have emerged as the predominant approach for enabling multi-vendor management. Open APIs and standard management provide an intent-based model for integration and orchestration in a standardized manner, which expand the products and vendors that network operators may exploit to meet their individual objectives.

From the Media to Application layers, disaggregation offers many opportunities for transformation, at the operator’s pace (vs. that of their vendors).

Breaking Vendor Lock-In

Another perspective on the question of ‘What is Network Disaggregation’ is that disaggregation allows network operators to regain control of their networks from incumbent vendors who have dominated the industry for decades.

While many operators rationalize their single- (or dual-) vendor environments through familiarity and availability of support, these advantages come at a steep price. Not only are the list prices far higher than aggregated alternatives, highly proprietary and guarded platforms limit agility and access to requested features, often requiring costly upgrades, and constrain access to new technologies as well. Proprietary architectures have hindered innovation, limited availability of required features, and significantly driven up costs.

Disaggregation offers a better way to build networks. By selecting an open NOS Platform, operators are free to capitalize upon virtually any new technology, that may be readily scaled up or down as required. A single disaggregated common platform may replace multiple purpose-built appliances, offering significant benefits, and reducing the carrying costs while steadily eroding vendor lock-in.

Next Up: The Business Case

Network disaggregation is transforming networking and telecommunications by enabling agility, common platforms, and significantly lower TCO. Standards bodies and open source communities are actively realizing disaggregation, which is already being be recursively applied to the entire network, network segments, network elements, and major components.

Availability of powerful white box platforms in conjunction with open NOS platforms has enabled common platforms that are reshaping the mobile network, especially as the 5G rollout accelerates. A particularly important catalyst for disaggregation (and the open networking movement) is the erosion of vendor lock-in, to improve agility, enable innovation, and substantially decrease costs

The business case for disaggregation will be examined in additional detail in the next Blog in our series.

For a more in-depth discussion, we invite you download our newly released Crossing the Disaggregation Chasm Whitepaper.

About the Author

Sanjay Kumar is Chief Marketing Officer for IP Infusion and has 20 years of experience in networking technology. Prior to joining IP Infusion, Sanjay held product management positions at Aruba Networks, Aerohive Networks, Broadcom, Cisco and Netgear.