Google-RailTel’s Wi-Fi project uses Cloud-Native NFV to Deliver Wi-Fi to Millions

Google puts Cloud-Native NFV to the Test in Wi-Fi Services on Indian Railways!

SAN JOSE, CA / NEW DELHI — Google is demonstrating that it’s possible to deliver carrier-class WiFi service by using cloud-native network functions virtualization (NFV) for efficiency gains and cost savings.   The company is working with India’s state-owned PSU, RailTel, to deliver WiFi services at hundreds of railway stations throughout India by using a Google Cloud-based virtual evolved packet core (vEPC).

With a 116-station WiFi network already built at the Railway Stations, Google says it’s building evidence that carrier services can indeed be delivered in a cloud-native fashion, based on microservices built from containers. The program, which was first announced in late 2015, is part of the Google Access & Energy Team. The goal is to offer WiFi service in 400 train stations by 2018. So far 116 stations have been outfitted with the service.

Google is now delivering Wi-Fi access in Indian railway stations using a virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) running in its cloud infrastructure, said Geng Lin, Head of Global Engineering, Global Markets, at Google, in a keynote address at Layer123 NFV World Congress in San Jose, California

“I think the cloud-native model is here for NFV, and I believe re-imagining carrier network services as cloud-native is possible,” said Geng Lin, CTO of Enterprise Network and Infrastructure Services at Google, speaking at this week’s Layer 123 NFV World Congress here. the WiFi service is currently attracting six million monthly users that consume about 200 Terabits (Tb) of data per day. When complete, Google expects the RailTel WiFi service to support about 30 million monthly users.

Of course, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has a few advantages over your everyday telco. The applications in question are greenfield and don’t carry a decades-long legacy. Google isn’t messing with tectonic layers of OSS amassed via acquisitions, nor is it being held to five-nines reliability — and the company has ready access to a large public cloud (Google Cloud Platform) for “free.”

Still, the Railwire project provides a look at the possibilities for the microservices approach in an NFV world. It’s working at scale. Google believes its deployment will rank among the largest over-the-top broadband services ever created, having grown to about 6 million users per month; Google expects that figure to be 30 million when the project is done.

Lin’s talk was also a sequel to last year’s NFV World Congress, when Google first presented the Railtel project. The first station connected to the WiFi network launched in January 2016; Google is now up to 116 stations and aims to reach 400 in 2018.

The network’s control plane is virtual, hosted in Google Cloud Platform and split up into microservices.

“As the network software-ization becomes reality, [and with] the separation of the control plane functions from the data plane, we see most of those control-plane functions are software, and you can easily decompose them and reconstruct them into the cloud,” Lin said.

The microservices Google has developed include a vast amount of monitoring, and that’s where analytics come in. In place of traditional OSS, Google is using a cloud-based analytics platform, a key step toward creating a network that can respond to changing conditions automatically.

“Instead of just paying attention to the so-called abnormal events, we actually collect network health data at a constant rate, regardless of whether anything goes good or bad,” Lin said.

That’s been a trend in analytics and security. Vendors are experimenting with recording literally everything a network does — something that’s become feasible only in recent years — and then using machine learning or some similar technology to winnow the information.

This makes it possible to monitor the network’s health comprehensively. But the real goal is to cut down on human interaction with the network. According to Lin, Google uses its analytics not only to alert humans if something has gone wrong, but also to indicate what the impact is — which services have been affected, for instance. That reduces the time humans spend on analysis and triage.

The analytics platform can also trigger the network to fix itself, in the case of problems that are simple enough — again cutting down on human intervention.

As a result, two engineers are enough to monitor this network that’s serving 6 million people per month, Lin said.

Lin outlined four key elements of the network:

  • A cloud-based virtual control plane.
  • A cloud-based service operations platform.
  • Fiber backhaul. RailTel provides the fiber backhaul through its fiber-optic network that runs along most of the company’s railroad tracks covering about 26,000 miles.
  • An analytics platform.

Lin said Google’s analytics platform constantly collects network data and runs it through various analytics models to provide a real-time assessment of the network. “This system cuts down significantly on human intervention,” Lin said. “At this moment, to run a service with millions of monthly users you only need two engineers behind the scenes.”

Bigger Implications

Perhaps even more important than providing WiFi service throughout Indian train stations is that Google is showcasing a new way to deliver network services using the public cloud. “At the network architecture level it is getting to the stage where we can massively commoditize the network function services through software, which fundamentally changes the control plane,” Lin said. “When you transform the control plane architecture, you can alter the capex structure.”

Training for Project implementation Teams

Google is in discussions with Bangalore based RPS Consulting Pvt Ltd for rendering technology training sessions on the network functions virtualization (NFV) not only for greater efficiency gains and cost savings, but also moving beyond Cost Optimization to Agile Service Creation & Scaling.