Nokia wants to build data centers for mobile operators

Nokia wants to help mobile network operators launch new services and cut their costs with a new range of servers, switches and storage they can use to virtualize their networks.

Enterprises have already adopted virtualization and cloud-based IT infrastructures, and now telecommunications operators are looking at doing the same thing. Meanwhile equipment vendors like Nokia are increasingly offering operators the hardware and software to provide telephony, messaging and mobile broadband as virtualized services.

Telecommunications operators instigated the move away from dedicated, proprietary equipment to virtualized hardware. A group including AT&T, Verizon, China Mobile, Orange and Deutsche Telekom proposed a concept called NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), which is now being standardized by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

ETSI’s aim is to help operators build more agile networks that are able to respond dynamically to the traffic and services running over them.

Nokia hopes to target that market with its AirFrame Data Center Solution, now shipping. It consists of racks filled with servers, switches and storage ready to run the virtualized services. The servers were designed in-house and manufactured by a partner, Nokia said.

Some of Nokia’s biggest competitors, including Ericsson and Huawei Technologies, are already selling data center equipment to network operators. Enterprise server and virtualization vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, VMware and Red Hat hope to profit from NFV to sell to the telecommunications market too.

Nokia hopes to distinguish its offering with a set of acceleration cards that will improve performance by off-loading demanding network tasks such as encryption.

It will continue an existing partnership with HP to virtualize mobile networks, but believes the AirFrame is the most advanced alternative, a spokeswoman said via email on Monday.

Virtualization is such an integral part of Nokia’s future, it makes sense for the company to develop a platform that isn’t dependent on a third party.

HP too sees a need for a more complete product portfolio, and last week acquired ConteXtream to boost its own offerings.

In April, Nokia announced plans to acquire rival Alcatel-Lucent, which already has NFV plans of its own, having last year announced a collaboration with Red Hat to virtualize mobile networks. Nokia is also acquiring Eden Rock, a specialist in self-organizing networks (SON) which would benefit from running on NFV systems, and shares the goal of making networks more flexible.

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