It is a radical idea and a thrilling undertaking – eliminating much of the traditional gear from an ISP’s infrastructure. But, gaze at telecommunications (or IT in general) long enough and you’ll eventually come to realize: everything is virtual, in that world, anyways. Or do you really believe that this is air, we are breathing, in cyberspace? 😉
Instead, try and do away with all these routers and boxes and dedicated servers. Cut down massively on your energy bill, because less gear requires less cooling and uses less power. Make the economies of scale work for you. This is what the cloud fuss is really all about!
Bundle your computing resources into a cluster and improve on efficiency in terms of utilization and TCO, while retaining the resiliency of a distributed infrastructure. Gain the administrative benefits of a centralized, mainframe-like environment while retaining the flexibility of individual systems and customized implementations. Leveraging virtualization techniques, such as VMware’s vSphere, we can make it all happen.
Some people will argue that the “inner sanctum” of any ISP would be a set of core routers and a bunch of peerings and transit agreements. While certainly true from a point of view, I however identifiy the RADIUS database to be much more of the real McCoy – you’ll be hosed and done if you loose that. Being the central authentication and accounting service, it’s literally your vault full of your gold: customer records.
Customers won’t be able to connect with your service if the RADIUS goes down. But, with those records gone for good, a sudden flood of support calls from angry people that can’t go online during prime time will seem like a walk in the park. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, that is: You’ll need to rebuild that database from records stored elsewhere. If you can’t restore the passwords, you’ll have to issue a new one for every customer and have the account information updated in each and every CPE out there in the field.
I think that those records are the very core of your ISP business, as far as your customers mean business to you.
Hence, we moved RADIUS and it’s database onto our cluster and into the cloud first. While at it, we also created a bunch of virtual PPPoE servers and some edge routers. Rather easy and at no additional cost, with the help of the freeBSD based and quite so often completely underestimated or even belittled pfSense platform. On which we also implemented two anycasted DNS resolvers. That, and we brought in the customer management system, too.
What’s left outside the cluster is a network switch, a bunch of DSLAMs and -so far- the core routers. In the picture above you can also spot two DSL modems, one for ADSL2+ and the other for a less known DSL variant named IDSL.
Yes. We can provide Internet access from the cloud.