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Examine CORD architecture's benefits and challenges

CORD architecture offers service providers a compelling way to combine open hardware and software in the central office, boost service delivery and enable NFV capabilities.

Service providers using network functions virtualization architectures are upgrading the compute capabilities at their central offices to more quickly deliver applications to their customers. Central Office Re-architected as a Datacenter, or CORD, is a standards-based option to provide an open platform for service providers to enable NFV capabilities at the edge of their networks.

The goal of CORD -- a project under the Open Networking Foundation -- is to combine open hardware and software to bring data center economics and cloud agility to telecom operators' central offices. CORD architecture consists of Open Compute Project-based hardware; open source software, including OpenStack, Open Network Operating System, Docker or XOS; and merchant silicon on white box switches.

Residential and mobile CORD

R-CORD. Residential CORD is a version of CORD architecture designed specifically to virtualize residential access networks. R-CORD has support from a number of service providers, including AT&T, Verizon and Deutsche Telekom. R-CORD is in trials and proofs of concept, and it will be deployed in production during 2018 and 2019.

M-CORD. Mobile CORD is a version of CORD architecture designed specifically to virtualize the edge of the mobile network, including cloud -- or virtualized -- radio access networks (cRAN or vRAN). M-CORD is behind R-CORD in terms of deployment because it depends on rationalization of NFV architectures for 5G, which is still in development. M-CORD faces competition from a number of recent open vRAN consortiums, including the Open Radio Access Network Alliance, Cisco's Multi-Vendor Open vRAN Ecosystem Initiative for Mobile Networks and the Telecom Infra Project's OpenRAN.

Compute requirements at the central office

A typical telecommunications provider has hundreds or thousands of remote locations that contain legacy voice and data equipment to provide connectivity to its customers. These central office locations are ideal candidates for network modernization with NFV technology.

Most of the leading service providers are evaluating next-generation NFV architectures with significant compute and storage resources for their central offices. Network resources at the central office have the following requirements:

  • high reliability or redundancy;
  • scalability and flexibility -- each central office will have unique requirements;
  • low cost due to the large number of sites to be deployed; and
  • Network Equipment-Building System or near-NEBs capabilities, which may be required for insurance.

The communication server market

CORD must continue to strengthen its portfolio of open hardware and software components to increase market traction.

The growing market for communication servers is large, segmented and complex, with annual revenue in excess of $7 billion, according to Doyle Research. Service providers have many options to consider when selecting a compute platform for their NFV applications. They are evaluating these compute platforms based on capacity, size, power requirements, reliability, service and support, and cost. Their compute requirements vary depending on application; location, like customer premises equipment, edge, cloud or data center, for example; and form factor -- rack vs. blade. Options for compute platforms include the following:

  • appliances from network equipment suppliers;
  • commercial servers from vendors like Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell;
  • white boxes with custom specifications;
  • CORD;
  • Telecom Infra Project; and
  • Virtual Central Office, a project under Open Platform for NFV.

Benefits of CORD architecture

CORD offers a new business model to achieve the benefits of NFV. It provides an architecture for open hardware and open software that will reduce overall equipment costs, thus lowering Capex. Networking operators can upgrade their network technology without hardware dependency.

A vibrant ecosystem of open source software will accelerate innovation and potentially allow service providers to deliver new services to customers more rapidly. A number of suppliers offer CORD-specific products and development efforts, including Radisys, Calix and Adtran.

Challenges to CORD adoption

CORD is early in its adoption cycle, with limited production deployment at this time. CORD architecture has a number of variants -- e.g., R-CORD and M-CORD -- and may not coalesce into a standard with enough critical mass to affect the market. Like NFV, CORD needs to attract a broader ecosystem in terms of NFV hardware, software and services suppliers.

As part of their virtualization efforts, service providers will need to adopt new methods for supporting multivendor hardware and software. CORD implementation will require service providers to test, deploy and service networks with disaggregated components from many different suppliers. These virtual platforms will have to be integrated into the service provider's specific operational support and business support system (OSS/BSS) platforms.

Service providers should partner for NFV and CORD support

CORD provides an innovative architecture for NFV platforms in distributed locations. It helps support the promised NFV benefits of reduced systems costs and unleashes innovation using an open software ecosystem. CORD can be customized to meet specific workload requirements.

CORD architecture is early in its deployment cycle and must prove it provides significant benefits, compared to other communications server platform options, like commercial servers. It must continue to strengthen its portfolio of open hardware and software components to increase market traction. Service providers will need partners with knowledge of NFV and OSS/BSS to help them architect, implement and support virtual access networks based on CORD architecture. 

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