We had a conversation with Nikolai Stankau, Business Development Director within the Telco Vertical at Red Hat. Red Hat is an American multinational software company providing open source software products to the enterprise community. Founded in 1993, Red Hat has its corporate headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, with satellite offices worldwide.
Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of open source software solutions, using a community-powered approach to provide reliable and high-performing cloud, Linux, middleware, storage and virtualization technologies. Red Hat also offers support, training, and consulting services. As a connective hub in a global network of enterprises, partners, and open source communities, Red Hat helps create relevant, innovative technologies that liberate resources for growth and prepare customers for the future of IT.
Within the Telco market a new transition is taking place to virtualise the Network Functions and get away from proprietary appliances to standard off the shelf hardware and open source software. The European Telecommunications and Standardisation body, ETSI (www.etsi.org) has provided an Architecture overview for Network Function Virtualisation (NFV), based on OpenStack, an open source community project. Red Hat as a core contributor to OpenStack and with its Red Hat OpenStack Platform product has really come into its own. With a long list of industry collaborations that keeps on growing, we couldn’t wait to speak to Nik.
Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I studied in Canterbury, European Management Science and did my MBA in Business.
After that I started working for Accenture as a consultant, supporting SAP FI & BW projects and implementing an Umbrella Fault Management System at a German ISP. After that I worked for KPNQwest starting in sales. KQ had the big internet cables running underwater from the Netherlands to New York. It filed for bankruptcy in 2002, which was an extreme experience. I was then working for Air Liquide, a French company producing industrial gases and services, which had an IT company in Germany, selling IT services and outsourcing to the SME market. I then got a call from an old colleague, who had started working for Red Hat and I got an offer I couldn’t refuse and that’s when I joined the company in 2006.
What about the business made you want to join?
It was exciting! In the software industry you usually sell licences, so how do you make money with free software? The whole open source and collaborative approach, working with the open source community, how can you make that fly as a business model? That was what got me hooked on Red Hat.
Can you tell me a little bit about Red Hat and the products and services you offer?
Good question to ask, as most of the people know Red Hat as a Linux company. When I start a meeting I always ask that question: “What do you know about Red Hat?”
First of all, you should know that Red Hat is fully committed to open source; everything it creates is 100 percent open source. We believe the open source development model is the best model to foster innovation, faster. The Red Hat development model begins in the open source community, with thousands of contributors, and results in finished products that are tried, tested, and trusted.
Our customers buy subscriptions, which enables them to download Red Hat software and provides access to the guidance, stability, and security they need to confidently deploy these products, even in their most mission-critical environments.
In terms of our product portfolio, we started off with Linux then acquired JBoss and have built out our middleware portfolio to include things like a Java EE application platform, an integration platform, business rules management, process automation and more. We have our hybrid cloud platforms, including Red Hat Virtualization, Red Hat OpenStack Platform for cloud infrastructure, and Red Hat OpenShift, a container application platform to build, deploy, and manage applications across a hybrid environment, helping businesses enact devops and agile software development. We have software-defined Storage (SDS) solutions with Gluster and Ceph in addition to Ansible, our automation engine. And then some!
What is the core part of the business?
Our core offering that clearly drives the adoption across Red Hat’s open source technologies is Linux as the foundational operating system. Our other ‘platform’ technologies sit on top of that. Red Hat OpenStack Platform helps communications service providers (CSPs) move to NFV, as well as enable them to make use of hybrid cloud. At the same time with Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform we are enabling microservices-based software development, using container technology, which is also one of the hot topics today.
How do you determine what solution will fit your customers’ requirements?
This is especially important for the telco industry. Carrier networks have special requirements like high throughput, low latency and fault tolerance. The European Telecommunications Standardisation Institute (ETSI) implemented a working group for NFV, that provided a first architectural high-level overview. In this overview OpenStack was the proposed virtualisation technology. The challenge was to address the specific carrier grade requirements, like low latency, and include these in the OpenStack community release, from which we as Red Hat subsequently derive our Red Hat OpenStack product. We are closely working with the standardisation bodies, like ETSI and OPNFV, as well as the ecosystem of partners and the carriers themselves, to support telco use cases. Then we often go into a proof of concept (PoC) phase together to further test out the technology.
What did you first initially think of NFV/SDN?
When we first had the discussions with the ETSI/NFV working group in 2013, we were telling them we’d been virtualising the data centre for a decade, so what’s the problem? But they were very nice in educating us and explained: if you have a pre-paid card for your mobile, the backend system needs to check the balance because if you route the call with nothing on the card, then you can’t charge retrospectively. So, within approximately 30 milliseconds of you dialling a number on your phone, the balance needs to be checked in the billing system before the call is routed through. At that time it was a great challenge to match these specific requirements. This challenge is what made it so interesting. Also it was a completely new market for us.
What is meant by ‘Open Source’?
The open source development model means that a community of people jointly contribute code to solve a technical challenge. In the case of OpenStack we jointly develop a cloud platform that can address the data centre as well as the telco network needs. We as Red Hat help translate requirements we get from carriers, equipment providers and partners into a use case that the open source community understands to be able to develop code against.
The “open source way” extends beyond software development. Its principles can be applied more broadly to solve problems including how to run a business, how to cultivate a more inclusive culture, how to empower citizens to make scientific discoveries. These principles include things like open exchange (of ideas, information); participation (when we are free to collaborate, we create); rapid prototyping (failing faster can lead to better solutions found faster), and meritocracy (the best ideas win).
What are the key benefits and strengths of using Open Source?
Interoperability is a key benefit. If you look at GSM and how that was developed, that was more based on different patents and intellectual property rights that certain companies hold. If you use open source technology, it is mostly under the GNU General Public License (GPL), so you can use it and there is no cost attached, no licence fee as such that you have to pay.
With open source, you see the code, it’s not hidden. A bit like a car: you can look under the bonnet and see the machine and you can change or repair things if needed. With proprietary code software you need to call support and wait for a fix. With open source you fix it (if you can) and report the fix to the community.
Innovation is also a major benefit. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people contribute their ideas, solve problems and technical issues together to create better software. This is why we see very fast innovation in open source software.
What are the biggest challenges you come up against?
One challenge is to keep up with all the innovation as everything is happening so fast. In the telco market we now talk about Edge Computing, Containers for Network Functions, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, IoT and even topics like virtualising Media Functions or intelligent Content Delivery Networks.
The next big challenge is for companies and carriers to figure out how to leverage open source. Some companies take open source code, change it and keep it to themselves. They may think it gives them a competitive advantage or they just think it’s too much work to contribute it back and to get it accepted with the open source community upstream. However, the development of new features and functions continues to happen in the community, and at some point the company wants to introduce a new release base. Now their prior developed code which has forked from the community version and was not shared with the community might not work with the latest technology coming out of the community, and therefore needs to be redeveloped again. Each company needs to decide if they want to use open source software products – which should give them security, stability and long-term support – or if they want to use open source software directly from the community, and if they actively want to participate and contribute code to specific open source community projects.
Is there anything that Red Hat can do to overcome that?
We spend time educating our customers on how to navigate open source, and the difference between open source projects, and products. We also want to encourage the industry to contribute. We 100% committed to open source and do not own a single line of code, we develop it all upstream within the open source community. This is the engine of innovation and provides us with a platform to collaborate with our partners and customers to jointly develop better software.
How would you define the ethos and culture within Red Hat?
Red Hat’s culture is open and transparent, especially in the way that we communicate and collaborate. I strongly believe in the open source development model, the community collaboration, the open approach to working. It is something that will truly change the way technology is being developed and I believe it to be the model of the future.
In your opinion, what has been the biggest game changer within Networking?
Using OpenStack to help deliver virtual network functions (VNFs) was a great opportunity for us. We have been able to show how the open source development model is innovative and open. Looking at projects like ONAP, where AT&T work together with China Mobile, to solve industry challenges, shows that carriers are now taking the opportunity to jointly leverage the power of open source.
What Emerging technologies are you most impressed with?
Definitely container technology, with which you can more quickly build and deploy applications. It will be the future of our next generation of software applications. At the same time managing hundreds of thousands of containers is a challenge, which is why Kubernetes as a container orchestration technology is something I am very impressed with.
I also think the topic of multi-access edge computing will become very interesting, especially with 5G capacity coming up. How will we move the vast amount of data that we produce or share? We will need to think about intelligent content delivery networks, making use of AI and machine learning. Carriers will want to fully automate their networks. So the next emerging technology will probably be around self-organised communications networks.
How do you see it changing the life of the traditional Network Engineer?
It’s already changing. We need to be quicker in developing and deploying for example network functions. An NFV platform comprises of a minimum of five different levels, including hardware, virtualisation, software-defined networking, network functions, etc. These levels need to be monitored, maintained and supported. The question is how can we leverage virtualised environments and applications to facilitate this new responsibility.
If you had to give one piece of advice to a network engineer, what would it be?
“Software-Defined Everything” is coming along and this will dramatically change the way we build and operate networks in the future. People who understand how to take advantage of this and integrate the old with the new world will be needed desperately. This change also incorporates understanding how we develop and deploy software as well as how we can automate processes better.
If you would like to learn more about Red Hat, click here