Quest for Real-time Operating Platforms for Next Generation Networks

Antonio Manzalini, IEEE SDN Initiative Co-Chair


Today, Network Operators and Service Providers are very much engaged in transforming their legacy infrastructures, evolved over the last decades, into more flexible and programmable networks and services platforms. At stake there is the business sustainability for the future. A challenging goal of this Digital Business Transformation is the radical simplification of a complicated architecture, made of silos of several network layers with their own control and management systems.

Digital Business Transformation mean a number of targets: saving Operational costs, reducing Time to Market, improving de-commissioning procedures, improving the “quality of service” but also becoming ready for providing new ICT services, even those which are still unpredictable today. In a sentence, Telecommunications infrastructures should become “good enough” to be economically sustainable in highly dynamic and changing scenarios.

SDN-NFV are considered today two of the most promising enabling technologies to achieve these goals. However, the penalty paid for improved flexibility and programmability will be an increasingly higher level of management “complexity”: in fact, rather than managing sets of closed physical nodes and systems, it will be necessary allocating and orchestrating a huge number of inextricably linked software tasks, that would be dynamically migrating and updating to different physical locations.

There is an overall consensus that Next Generation Networks (5G and beyond) will look like distributed clouds of IT systems, interconnected through ultra-low latency (radio and wired) connections, capable of executing software processes and applications, dynamically meeting Customers’ needs. As a matter of fact, already today we’re witnessing the interweaving of technologies such as Edge and Fog Computing with SDN and NFV.  

“Softwarization” will allow decomposing the functions of Next Generation Networks into chains of software tasks. End-to-end service provisioning will require that this functional decomposition will be followed by an optimal allocation and orchestration of the virtualized functionalities across User Equipment, RAN, Mobile Edge and Core resources. Eventually, this will bring a unified service modeling whereby SDN services (e.g., controllers), NFV services (e.g., Virtual Network Functions), and Cloud services are seen as “application” executed on virtualized resources.

A services can be seen as “units of orchestration” which are executed in one of more “slices”, which is made of a set of logical resources (e.g., Virtual Machines or Containers) interconnected  by a set of virtual links (e.g., Virtual Networks). A service provides a function, it can be composed with other functions (e.g., as in a service chain, or more articulated service logics), it exports APIs (e.g., REST) and it is available anywhere and anytime (location-time independent).

TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications) will be a natural candidate for the Northbound interfaces of the Real-time Operating Platforms. TOSCA  is a standard from OASIS that targets interoperable deployment and lifecycle management of cloud services. In fact, TOSCA uses the concept of service templates to describe cloud workloads as a topology template. The topology template describes the structure of a service as a set of node templates and relationship templates modeling the relationships as a directed graph. Node templates and relationship templates (linking different nodes) in fact specify properties and operations (via interfaces) to manipulate the service components. Moreover, it is likely that the YANG declarative data modeling language will be used both to describe deployable instances of a service (e.g., a VNF) and to configure a network device/element at run time.

Eventually, TOSCA and NetConf /YANG could be considered as complementary instruments: deployment templates may trigger the  NetConf /YANG configurations during the instantiation of a service, whist in the Operations the Real Time Operating Platforms can take over configurations at run time.

On the Southbound interface a number of well-known configuration protocols and programming language are getting momentum: OpenFlow, NetConf, P4, etc.

At the same time we’re witnessing a growing diffusion of Internet of Things and Machine to Machine communications are creating also a new generation of non-human Customers’, such as Robots, Avatars and any sort of Artificial Intelligence applications.  This “complexity”, outstripping human control and operations ability, will be tamed only by exploiting real-time Operating Platforms, based on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) methods and systems, integrating management, control and orchestration functions. It will be necessary collecting, filtering and elaborating the infrastructure Big Data, thus “closing the loop” and making them truly “actionable” for the operations and provisioning of services.

Real-time Operating Platforms should provide an abstraction layer for switching/networking (e.g., Switch, Ports, Links), compute and storage resources (e.g., CPU, RAM, Disk, Ports, etc.). This allows applications and developers to request connectivity, storages and arbitrary units of compute power without one having to worry about how this translates to bare-metal, Containers or Virtual Machines.  When compared with the ETSI NFV model, a real-time Operating Platform can be seen as a global “overarching orchestrator”, eventually extending the capabilities of the so-called VNF Manager to span from the Terminals, through the Network up to the Cloud. Service orchestrators can be executed as “services” on top of the real-time Operating Platform, leveraging on the offered APIs.

Among the main features of real-time Operating Platforms there should be, for example: selecting, allocating and sharing resources of different domains for executing end-to-end services over “slices of resources”. Moreover, this would entail the scheduling of the tasks to be executed for the successful delivery of end-to-end services. In fact, one challenge for this Next Generation Networks will be the capability of integrating the several networking and computing frameworks which will proliferate in the future, thus creating even more complexity and heterogeneity. Notable examples are: for the former one ONOS, CORD and for the latter ones, computing frameworks as Hadoop, MPI, MapReduce, Dryad, Pregel, CloudStack, OpenStack most of them having their own local scheduler and an executor.

Eventually this evolution will impact deeply the current value chain: in fact, Telecommunications infrastructures, governed by real-time Operating Platforms, will become a single, converged, industrial structure covering voice, Internet access and other services a la OTT.

In this big leap towards Artificially Intelligent Networks, a new Community will have to be developed capable of integrating Experts in Computer Science, Telecommunications-ICT, A.I. and Applied Mathematics.



Antonio ManzaliniAntonio Manzalini received the M. Sc. degree in electronic engineering from the Politecnico of Turin (Italy) and the Ph.D on Computer Networks from Télécom SudParis and Université Pierre & Marie Curie – Sorbonne Universités (France). In 1990 he joined Telecom Italia Lab (formerly CSELT). He started with RT&D activities on technologies and architectures for transport networks. He was active in the ITU standardization as Rapporteur (1996-2000) of two ITU-T Questions in charge of developing Standards on transport networks. He has been actively involved in several EURESCOM and European Project. He run as Project Manager (2000-2004) the following two project on innovative transport and networking technologies: FP5 IST Project LION, FP6 IST Integrated Project NOBEL. In 2003 he was appointed as member of the Scientific Committee of CTTC (Centre Tecnològic de Telecomunicacions de Catalunya). On 2006 he has been appointed as Project Leader of the FP6 FET ICT Project CASCADAS. He has been General Chair of the 2nd International Conference on Autonomic Computing and Communication Systems (AUTONOMICS 2008). In 2008 he has been awarded with the International Certification of Project Manager by PMI. He has been General Chair of the European Conference on Networks and Communications (EuCNC2013). He run as Project Leader in 2013 and 2015 two EIT-Digital funded projects on SDN and NFV. He has been awarded with six patents on networking and services systems and methods. He was author of a book on network synchronization and his results have been published in more than 100 of papers and publications. He is currently Senior Manager at the Innovation Dept. of Telecom Italia Mobile. His interests are mainly in the areas management/control/orchestration of Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), primarily for 5G future service scenarios. Since 2013, he is co-Chair of the IEEE initiative on SDN and co-Chair of the IEEE SDN-NFV Com. Soc. Subcommittee.



Alexandros StavdasAlexandros Stavdas holds a B.Sc. degree in Physics from the University of Athens (Greece), M.Sc. in Optoelectronics and Laser Devices from Heriot-Watt /St. Andrews University (U.K.), and a Ph.D. from University College London (U.K). Currently, he is Professor of optical systems and networking in the Department of Informatics and Telecommunications, University of Peloponnese. He is an author of over 160 journal and conference papers. He has also served as the Technical Program Committee Chairman and a Member of the Technical Program Committees in various International Conferences. His current research interests include Future Internet Architectures, 5G convergence of heterogeneous access networks, multi-layer performance modeling, SDN/NFV, physical layer modeling of optical networks and optical packet/burst switching systems.



Subscribe to IEEE Softwarization

Join our free SDN Technical Community and receive IEEE Softwarization.

Subscribe Now


Article Contributions Welcomed

Download IEEE Softwarization Editorial Guidelines for Authors (PDF, 122 KB)

If you wish to have an article considered for publication, please contact the Managing Editor at


Past Issues

November 2018

March 2018

January 2018

December 2017

September 2017

July 2017

May 2017

March 2017

January 2017

November 2016

September 2016

July 2016

May 2016

March 2016

January 2016

November 2015

IEEE Softwarization Editorial Board

Laurent Ciavaglia, Editor-in-Chief
Mohamed Faten Zhani, Managing Editor
TBD, Deputy Managing Editor
Syed Hassan Ahmed
Dr. J. Amudhavel
Francesco Benedetto
Korhan Cengiz
Noel Crespi
Neil Davies
Eliezer Dekel
Eileen Healy
Chris Hrivnak
Atta ur Rehman Khan
Marie-Paule Odini
Shashikant Patil
Kostas Pentikousis
Luca Prete
Muhammad Maaz Rehan
Mubashir Rehmani
Stefano Salsano
Elio Salvadori
Nadir Shah
Alexandros Stavdas
Jose Verger