Contributing Editor Annie Turner looks at some of the market and technology moves around network automation over recent weeks.
BT and Ericsson (UK and Ireland) signed multi-million-pound partnership to provide commercial 5G networks. The two claim this is the first commercial 5G private network agreement of its kind in the UK. They also said it would “combine BT’s expertise in building converged fixed and mobile networks with Ericsson’s leading 5G network technology and enterprise solutions”.
Ericsson ended May on something of high, having had a torrid 2022 so far. In January it reported what Bloomberg called “stellar results”, with year-on-year profits up by 41%, but activist investor Cevian Capital, took the opportunity to complain about the Swedish vendor’s low share price, its $6.2 billion Vonage acquisition last November, and a lack of clarity about the enterprise market. Ericsson’s share price and reputation subsequently took a serious battering when allegations of payments to ISIS in Iraq surfaced.
In the face of fierce criticism, in mid-May Ericsson announced it was restructuring to drive growth, which includes setting up a new division for Business Area Enterprise Wireless Solutions, comprising Cradlepoint and Dedicated Networks. George Mulhern is appointed head of the unit and will join the Ericsson executive team. The new structure will be in place from 1 June.
BT and Ericsson have worked together on major projects incorporating private 5G networks, including Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland. They say their contract paves the way for BT to sell 5G products to enterprises in sectors from manufacturing to defence, education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.
Getting your ducks in a row
Just before the contract was announcement, BT said it would invest almost £100 million over the next three years in its Division X unit which is supposed to accelerate the development of customer solutions which embed tech including 5G, IoT, edge compute, cloud and AI. Division X is led by Marc Overton.
For its part just ahead of the announcement with BT, Ericsson said it would recruit will hire 250 cloud native software developers, engineers and architects to its Athlone R&D centre in Ireland to work on 5G projects.
Ericsson says its Irish operation has grown 25% over the past five years and that it also intends to attract software developers, data scientists, architects, cloud and mobile communication engineers to the centre over the next three years.
Denis Dullea, Head of R&D at Ericsson Athlone said the moves are “to enhance our capability to deliver the benefits of cloud native technologies to our global customer base via our RAN, Management, Automation and Orchestration offerings.”
DIY declarative code gathers pace
There were some interesting findings in the Nemertes Network Automation Research Study 2022, published in May 2022. It looked at how organisations with a lot of Cisco kit in their infrastructure implement network automation. Turns out that fewer than 20% use its flagship DNA Center network controller and management dashboard to automate provisioning and change management.
By contrast, more than 40% of those surveyed provide their own automation solutions from a combo of imperative scripting or programming (Python in the main), while about half use a model other than imperative or in addition to it – declarative automation.
We explored the importance of declarative coding in our recent interview with Philippe Ensarguet, Group CTO of Orange Business Services. In short, declarative coding (such as HTML) describes the desired outcomes and achieves them using reconciliation loops to fix any deviations from the pre-set desired state.
Most programming is imperative – a series of ‘If this happens, do that and then if X happens do Y’. Accuracy is critical: it is not forgiving if the sequence isn’t correct or the coder includes more or less than is required.
The study found 33% of the organizations interviewed used Red Hat’s Ansible for network automation because of the increased use of DevOps and its infrastructure as code approach. It started out as imperative but then graduated to declarative around five years ago. Gluware is designed for network automation in Cisco-heavy environments.
As M. Ensarguet explained, a declarative approach can support full automation so that as data centres, networks and storage are softwarised, the people working in these areas make all employees affected by this shift “more effective, more productive,” He added. “If you are not able to automate longer or deeper than with the CI/CD [continuous integration/continuous delivery], then you have no lever to manage the scaling – and that’s critical to the whole [automation] thing.”
It looks like that message is increasingly well understood from the Nemertes research, and we’ll leave them with the last word from the study (see ‘Recommendations’ image).