​OpenStack underpins Telstra's accelerated product development

Telstra is using Cisco's OpenStack-based InterCloud Services to reduce the time it takes to develop a product and deliver it to market.

With a goal to improve time to market, Telstra is the middle of developing an intelligent network orchestrator, dubbed Symphony, based on OpenStack to help the company build new products more quickly.

According to Rik Harris, Telstra cloud technology strategist, who recently spoke at OpenStack Australia Day in Sydney, there are number of objectives the company hopes to achieve from the Symphony project, including creating a unified product experience so that customers are able to browse, buy, configure, manage, and support their products from one place; allow customers to activate their products almost immediately; and enable customers, systems integrators, and partners to deliver their own product on top of Telstra's core assets.

The OpenStack platform is being delivered in Cisco's Intercloud Services public cloud platform, which was launched as part of a deal Cisco signed with Telstra back in 2014. As part of the deal, Cisco operates and controls the telco's cloud platform in its datacentre and uses Telstra's mobile network in Australia.

"Symphony takes Telstra's infrastructure that exists in our network. It provides a mechanism to chain those services together into multi-component cloud services construct ... bring them together in a seamless way to then provide that dynamic, on-demand type experience," he said.

"I want these set of services to be chained together in this way, and so you can press a button and see it happen."

He added that Symphony will eventually allow the company to tweak the attributes of its products, such as by deploying temporary services and tearing it down after a trial is over, or rebuilding a service chain in its entirety if a component fails.

To date, Telstra has developed three products on the platform: An internet VPN, which allows customers to connect to their branch offices via IPsec tunnels; a cloud gateway product for Telstra customers to connect their MPLS network through virtual firewall to the internet or Telstra's cloud providers; and a datacentre interconnect product to give customers the opportunity to connect through an Ethernet point-to-point connection to datacentres around the world.

Telstra is now also able to run six to eight environments concurrently for various stages of testing, including development environments, Harris said.

He added that since launching Symphony, Telstra has been able to reap a number of rewards, saying there has been an obvious increase in speed given the company is now able to create trial prototype environments within days; there is greater flexibility in being able to change the construct and not be locked into one design; there are now opportunities for the company to trial new product ideas without risk; and the company has now reached close to full automation of the deployment of applications.

However, the process not been completely smooth sailing. Harris highlighted that given the company is relying on a public cloud, Telstra is limited to the changes it can make to the platform and the geographical locations of its virtual network functions (VNF).

At the same time, the existing automation tools are still immature.

"We found most of the focus that these tools bring is how to deploy OpenStack. But we didn't want to deploy OpenStack, we had it; we wanted to use OpenStack. The only one of these configuration management tools that allowed us to effectively create and destroy the machines using OpenStack API was Ansible, and even then it was only 2.0 beta version at the time, which has now been released, that could do that," he said.

Another issue the company currently faces is when it is deploying a service on OpenStack. Harris explained that when there are two networking interfaces, the platform is unable to recognise where to assign a floating IP address.

"Sometimes it will do it on the right interface, sometimes it won't, and there is no way to specify which interface, so there is still some work to be done in this space."

Looking ahead, Harris said the company will work to address some of the challenges that will eventually see its automated interface testing extended end to end and improvements made to its Ansible OpenStack modules.

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