Ericsson Success Story

Unleashing the Potential of Telco Clouds for a Sustainable 21st Century Society

When you download a movie, send an instant message, or purchase online concert tickets, you are drawing on a wealth of computing capacity.  It allows you to acquire data, perform an e-commerce transaction or communicate with someone around the world – almost instantly.  Increasingly, the racks of servers, hardware and software that enable us to perform such tasks no longer reside onsite with service providers.  They are steadily moving into the ‘cloud’.

Cloud computing draws on a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server.  As cloud computing unleashes many possibilities to reduce operational costs, deliver new services and generate increased revenues, it is gaining significant momentum among companies.

This includes the multinational giants of the telecommunications world.  In fact, in October 2012, 13 of the largest telecommunications providers called for the development of virtual, cloud-computing networks.  These companies are seeking new ways to manage the rapid growth in telecom network usage, and capitalize on the wave of global investments in cloud services. These investments are projected to more than double from an estimated US$55 billion in 2011 to almost US$130 billion by 2015.  Although this industry is driven by these economic imperatives, cloud computing also offers significant environmental benefits as it reduces the volume of carbon-emitting hardware in the network.

Ericsson is leading an Equation sub-project that aims to help telecommunications providers capitalize on these opportunities.  The company is developing technologies for the Ericsson Cloud System – a ‘telco cloud’ or cloud-based network that offers the same robustness and quality of service as a traditional telecommunications network.  This includes the hardware and software required by telecommunications operators and data centres to manage the network through the cloud, while reducing energy consumption.  Perhaps even more promising, Ericsson aims to help data centres assess their energy usage and capitalize on renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower to operate the network.  This directly supports Ericsson’s vision of a networked and sustainable society, and the economic, social and environmental goals of the Equation Project.

Working closely with collaborators from universities and SMEs across Québec, Ericsson Canada’s Montréal-based R&D team is developing:

  • Software that enables the management and control of telecommunications networks from the cloud, and the use renewable energy sources to power them; and
  • Specialized hardware that supports the implementation of ‘virtual’ networks, helping to reduce the overall volume of physical carbon-emitting hardware.

Software to Manage the Telecom Network from the Cloud

To capitalize on the many opportunities presented by telco clouds, data centres require new ways to manage a virtual network which relocates the network function to an offsite location.  As part of this Equation sub-project, Ericsson is developing software that will provide these facilities with new web-based network management capabilities.  For example, it will enable data centres to better assess the health and lifecycle of network equipment; determine the impact of carbon emissions from this infrastructure; and put renewable sources of energy to work in the network.  This is not an easy task as solar and wind power are intermittent sources of energy that are heavily dependent on changing weather and climate conditions.  Ericsson aims to design solutions that enable the network to draw on available renewable power, and automatically switch to an alternate energy source when required.  To achieve these objectives, the firm is collaborating with researchers from École Polytechnique de Montréal, ÉTS, Université Laval and McGill University.  It is also working on specific software capabilities with Inocybe Technologies, a Québec SME that develops network virtualization technology.

Over the last year, Ericsson and its collaborators developed the first iteration of this network management solution.  The team tested the functionality of this software in a lab at ÉTS using Ericsson technology.  Building on the outcomes of this initial assessment, Ericsson continued to evolve the functionality of the software.  The company is now commercializing this technology and demonstrating how it will help data centres better assess network carbon emissions and reduce overall energy consumption.

Hardware to Light a Greener Path for Network Traffic

The creation of a telco cloud also requires specialized hardware that supports virtualization.  For data centres, virtualization allows cloud service providers to consolidate multiple physical servers to a single server with complete isolation.  This increases the efficiency of data centres, helping them to build a better bottom line, streamline network management and reduce the volume of costly, carbon-emitting network hardware.  In fact, analysts estimate that the continued adoption of cloud computing will lead to a reduction of data center energy consumption of 31% from 2010 to 2020.

As part of its telco cloud, Ericsson aims to employ optical or light-based techniques to optimize the transmission of data over virtual networks and deliver the reliability required for telecommunications.  This demands sophisticated components such as optical switches that automatically route or direct the flow of data over the network.  Ericsson is working with Dr. David Plant, James McGill Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his research team at McGill University on the development of this optical hardware.

“This our first collaborative R&D project with Ericsson,” said Dr. Plant.  “The opportunity to work with this global industry leader creates a unique learning opportunity for the researchers and students in our Photonic Systems Group at McGill.  It will bring our collective photonics expertise to bear on a commercial system that to be deployed around the world.  This is invaluable experience for our team.”

As described by Pierre Boucher, Research Director at Ericsson Canada, this Equation sub-project directly supports the objectives of Ericsson’s Networked Society initiative which sees everyone, everything and everywhere connected in real time.

“If network traffic continues to grow at the anticipated rate, existing telecommunications networks could become unsustainable.  As more telecommunications equipment moves to data centres, Ericsson aims to deliver new service provider cloud solutions to this industry.  The technologies developed in Montréal will provide new capabilities to telecommunications providers in Québec and around the world. The resulting innovations will have far-reaching impact on the Québec economy, and society more broadly.”

Mr. Boucher emphasizes the critical role of Prompt, an ICT R&D consortium and the Equation Project Coordinator, in helping to realize this opportunity for Ericsson.  “The outcomes of our Prompt-supported green ICT projects over the last few years have helped our Montréal-based R&D team to obtain a strategic mandate for the Ericsson Cloud System.  This initiative allows us to leverage funds from the Government of Québec, the expertise of local researchers and SMEs such as Inocybe, and many years of collaboration with Prompt.  It could lead to new R&D initiatives that help to retain and create new jobs here in Montréal, delivering many benefits to our employees, their families and the local economy.”

In addition to the near-term opportunities presented by telco clouds, this Ericsson-led Equation sub-project could help catalyze the development of sustainable, intelligent cities across Québec.  Given the wealth of renewable energy sources across Québec, this technology could be deployed in networks managed by green data centres across the province.  These networks would reduce carbon emissions from existing telecommunications infrastructure, as well as the many applications and services that run on them.  According to Mr. Boucher, “Telco clouds could truly put Québec on a digital path towards a sustainable 21st century society.”