Updated 11:27 July 24, 2019, with comment from Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth
BT Group has contracted Canonical to provide and support the open source infrastructure at the heart of its emerging 5G network, including a comprehensive Ubuntu package and OpenStack services, in a major win for the UK-based company.
Canonical will provide it with a managed OpenStack service, including its open source virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) as part of BT’s Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) program, and its transition to a cloud-based core network.
OpenStack software controls large pools of compute, storage, and networking resources throughout a datacenter, typically managed through a dashboard or the OpenStack API.
Ubuntu, the open source Operating System (OS), is primarily developed by Canonical’s development team. It was described by BT’s chief architect Neil McRae as “one of the foundations which underpins our network for the next 5 -10 years.”
Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth told Computer Business Review: “It had been a while since BT came to the market with an RFP for next-gen infrastructure, and all the usual suspects were there, so we’re delighted to have got this.”
He added: “For many telcos the move to OpenStack was/is challenging; the idea of operating a cloud was harder than they anticipated, for a range of reasons and they end up with integrations teams writing a lot of custom code. You then need people who know everything about everything on both sides of the integration. A lot of organisations die on the rocks of cloud infrastructure operations as a result.
“A big part of our package [with BT] is next-gen operations methodology and tools. If your integration code is open source, reusable, automated at a much higher level and you can share the same integration code across business units despite having different architectures, that makes it much easier to drive and integrate.”
He added: “BT have taken a very methodical approach to this which is great: too many people don’t understand [the risks] till they’ve been through the pain of a complex integration process. BT are excited about the 5G core, but also about the generalised ability to create cloud infrastructure at scale, and on demand.”
The company will be using Canonical’s Ubuntu Advantage for Infrastructure for the management of BT 5G operations. The security and support bundle for the Linux-based operating system – which touts the virtues of aggregating Ubuntu, Kubernetes, OpenStack, Ceph and SWIFT updates into one package – was only launched in April.
The contract is a major win for Canonical, founded in 2004 by South African entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth, and vindication of a decision to pivot away from desktop and mobile services, and toward infrastructure. It comes after Shuttleworth told Computer Business Review that he hopes to go to the financial markets for a growth equity round for the first time this year, with a potential IPO in future.
BT Canonical Contract: Open Source and Scalable
Further BT projects will introduce Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC), Network Slicing and multi-gigabit-per-second speeds, Canonical said.
“This phase of 5G will enable critical applications like real-time traffic management of fleets of autonomous vehicles, massive sensor networks with millions of devices measuring air quality across the entire country, and the ‘tactile internet’, where a sense of touch can be added to remote real-time interactions.”
BT’s McRae said: “The beauty of this platform is that it’s elastic, scalable, manageable and can add features quickly – and the Canonical team are helping us work out how to use this. The team understands that we need to move quickly, but that the platform has to be reliable. I want us to have a platform which enables developers to create apps that people never knew they needed but could never live without.
“Virtual reality, AR, industrial automation, transportation – doing these things far away from the object you’re trying to support with the network is difficult. But we see a future of deploying this in to a factory and controlling their devices and managing sensors [over the 5G network], tackling supply chain issues all on-premises is our vision for network cloud and network edge.”
He added: “With cloud native services we have true scalability, a pipeline for future developments and a cloud expansion model which allows us to meet the growing demands of the network. In the past, when we were upgrading things, we would typically have had to shut down the network – now we can update features and functionality in a much quicker way, in days rather than months.”
Canonical CEO Mark Shutteworth added: “BT has recognised the efficiency, flexibility and innovation afforded by an open architecture, and realises the value of such an approach in enabling its delivery of new 5G services. We’re delighted to be working with them to deliver the foundation to this approach.”
BT has adopted Juju and Canonical’s Charms for a model-driven architecture to onboard virtual network functions applications, with MAAS as the cloud provisioning tool.
McRae said: “The platform we are constructing will enable us to roll out our 5G core network, and then we’ll think about our TV platform, pretty much all DNS and Radius network management functionalities, and voice and video conferencing services.”