In this episode of The New Stack Makers, TC Currie is joined with industry veteran Larry Peterson, now CTO of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. Listeners might recognize his name as a co-author of the seminal book Computer Networks: A Systems Approach, which is now open sourced, or as the Director of the PlanetLab Consortium.
TC caught up with Dr. Peterson at the recent Service Mesh Days in San Francisco where he was interested in learning how service meshes might be able to help solve the telco industry’s problems as they move, in a slow-as-molasses sort of way, toward microservices architecture.
The PlanetLab consortium combined with the ONF and network engineers is represented on the board by the CTOs of AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, and Comcast. Google is also on the board because the foundation represents not just telcos, but all network operators. All of the ONF partners and their supply chains are interested in reorganizing around a disaggregated solution, as they move to a more cloud-like architecture, said Peterson.
“This is really focused on the edge of the carrier network,” he explained. “In the telco space they’re called central offices, in the cable world it’s head ends, but it’s where the access lives. It’s where passive optical network terminates from the fiber into your home, it’s where the cellular network terminates. Historically, it’s the most closed part of the ecosystem.”
Going into a telco office, he said, is like going into a museum. “There’s hardware that’s been there for decades, an estimated 300 different kinds of hardware typically being used.”
As a result of this — in addition to the legal requirements and regulations the industry faces because communications are a critical part of our infrastructure — the telco industry moves very slowly.
But this no longer serves the device-oriented telcos as they try to compete with cloud companies, which are service oriented. “It’s always a balance between velocity and stability, and they err on the side of stability,” he said.
The ONF is working with these companies to break their stack into smaller components, using as much open source software as possible. The challenges the telco industry are going through have a lot of commonality to the service mesh, said Peterson.
For the sake of feature velocity, they are trying to break their stacks down into smaller pieces. “It’s not just microservices,” he said. “They’re also moving functionality into switching fabric.”
A lot of progress has been made on this, but in the process, they end up with a lot of disaggregated components, which is the same problem space as the people who build cloud services.
Reassembling these pieces into a functioning coherent system is the challenge, he said. How do you build composite functionality out of those different kinds of components?
“Just because I fragmented the components doesn’t mean I can get away with fragmenting the operation.” That’s always been the challenge behind the scenes.
The question then becomes, how can I functionalize these components? What we are looking for, he said, is the “best of three worlds. You have to scale, you need stability and reliability out of the system, and you don’t want to give up on your features to adapt and be agile.”
Listen in to Peterson delve into the intersection between service mesh and the telco shift, what the first steps are, and what the future looks like.
For more information on Service Mesh, check out these articles:
Find out more about Peterson’s work at Systems Approach.
In this Edition:
1:28: Let’s start with a little bit about the Open Networking Foundation
6:38: Exploring functional components and legacy functions
12:06: So how do you go about doing that? Where do you start in this huge puzzle?
15:11: From my understanding, service mesh is all about managing microservices, so communication-wise, how do all these things work together?
18:35: Service chains as a path through a service mesh for an individual user or tenant
25:50: For engineers who are out there in the midst of their careers, what advice do you have for them for what they should be studying?
The Linux Foundation, home of the ONF, is a sponsor of The New Stack.