Using CORD to turn central offices into edge data centers

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.–In order to support the evolving demands placed on telecommunications networks, a number of complex things need to happen. Increasing capacity demands require more fiber, more fixed sites and more mobility sites; support for explosive growth in the internet of things places a new level of emphasis on uplink capacity, as well as authentication, security, management and other behind-the-scenes functionality; and support for latency-sensitive use cases means compute and storage need to move closer to the network edge and the end user.

That last point–decentralization of network functionality–comes in parallel with the massive move toward centralization of virtual network functions in data center environments. To put that another way, distributed facilities need to become more like their centralized, data center counterparts. Enter CORD (Central Office Re-Architected as a Data Center), an open source project led by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), an operator-led nonprofit consortium.

During the 10th annual TC3 Summit, Timon Sloane, ONF vice president of marketing and ecosystem, described telco central offices as “windowless, lights-out buildings at the edge of the network. There’s typically one three miles from any home. They’re like museums. The equipment in there is decades old. It’s a huge asset just in terms of real estate…but it’s a huge liability as well. This is where the operators connect to their customers; this is the touchpoint. This is where you can deliver services, this is where you can control quality of experience and this is where operators can compete with over the top players.”

By leveraging CORD, Sloane said, operators can turn those central offices into an “edge cloud. CORD is the solution, the platform, the infrastructure, that will run at the edge.” HE projected 70% of operators are planning to deploy CORD based on “broad consensus this is how networks will be built in the future.”

To get a little insight into how operators are approaching CORD–emphasis on little–Sloane hosted a brief discussion with Tom Tofigh of AT&T Labs and Sandhya Narayan, distinguished member of Verizon’s technical staff.

During the session, an audience members asked the two carrier reps how CORD will be deployed. “As far as the deployment is concerned,” Tofigh said, “we have done some aspects of the field trial,” but cautioned he “can’t talk” in more details. “We’ve been taking this as a reference platform. It is not yet production-ready.”

Responding to that same question, Narayan said, “I cannot really talk about that at this point. It is a reference architecture and we are looking at it from different angles.”

So, key takeaway: Operators are definitely looking to CORD to support continued network evolution, but the path from today to tomorrow has yet to be spelled out publicly.

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