Analysis The caution couldn’t be more stark. In a meeting with the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee yesterday, execs from BT and Vodafone warned UK lawmakers that a deadline of 2023 to remove Huawei-made equipment from their networks will result in multi-day mobile signal losses for some customers.
“To get to zero in a three-year period would literally mean blackouts for customers on 4G and 2G, as well as 5G, throughout the country,” claimed Howard Watson, chief technology and information officer of the BT Group, and a 40-year veteran of the telecoms industry.
He said BT would need at at least five years to expunge Huawei from its infrastructure, “anything less than that, we would have to stop doing 5G”.
Vodafone, which uses Huawei’s infrastructure in its 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks, made a similar case.
Echoing those concerns, Andrea Dona, head of networks at Vodafone UK, warned that customers would lose their signal, “sometimes for a couple of days, depending on how big or how intrusive the work to be carried out is.” Like Watson, Dona has a similarly storied CV, having previously held leadership roles at Ericsson and T-Mobile.
She said Vodafone would also need to “slow down our 5G deployment” if demands to replace Huawei in “very tight time” were made. Dona said Vodafone would not have the manpower to perform this engineering task, would need to recruit and felt five to seven years was more reasonable.
The comments made by Vodafone and BT, which had both been contacted by the Committee for comment, are yet another cliffhanger in the Huawei omnibus, the latest episode of which sees the Chinese networking bogeyman at risk of losing its UK empire as a direct consequence of the ongoing US sanctions.
Earlier this month, Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport told LBC Radio that the “reliability” of Huawei was now in question. The government is expected to make a decision later this month on whether it will compel networks to remove Huawei-made equipment in its entirety.
“In relation to Huawei, we’ve had these US sanctions that were imposed a couple of months ago. I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to analyse the impact of them,” Dowden told LBC’s Nick Ferrari this week.
BT: UK.gov ruling on Huawei will cost us half a billion pounds over next 5 years
“It seems likely they’re going to have a significant impact on the reliability of Huawei. I’ve just received that advice. I will be discussing that with the prime minister [Boris Johnson] and if there’s any change of policy arising from it I will make an announcement.”
No formal declaration
The government is yet to formally announce any decision. Nor has it announced a timeframe. However, there is an expectation that carriers would be given a three-year deadline. Although this is crushingly short (Watson and Dona suggested five or seven years would be required to complete the work), it would conclude before the UK’s 2024 general election, and thus be immune from the usual party-political interference.
While this is (obviously) dire for Huawei, it’s also potentially hugely damaging for networks. Remember: Huawei has operated in the UK for 20 years. Most domestic networks — fixed or wireless — have drunk from the firm’s trough in that time period, tempted by equipment that was said gto be cheaper and better than the equivalents from Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung, amongst others.
Speaking to The Register, analyst Paolo Pescatore of CCS Insight highlighted that most UK providers have developed an intimate relationship with Huawei, elevating its equipment to a high level of importance. But as time as dragged on — and as Beijing has evolved into a greater geopolitical foe for the West — that relationship has developed into something of a double-edged sword.
In his testimony to the committee, Dona claimed that Vodafone would have to spend “single-figure billions” to replace Huawei’s equipment from its network. The firm previously said it would cost €200m to remove Huawei from its European core networks. That’s without factoring in the non-core RAN.
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BT — historically one of Huawei’s biggest UK customers — claims it would spend £500m just to meet the government’s previous limit of 35 per cent “high risk” equipment in non-core networks.
And, as Huawei has repeatedly protested in recent months, any rip-and-replace mandate would consume the attentions of the UK’s telcos, ultimately slowing the deployment of 5G and other related technologies — like 5G standalone (SA). As one industry insider told the BBC, it would be “like doing heart surgery in the middle of a marathon.”
Echoing that sentiment, Victor Zhang, vice president of Huawei, told The Register: “Huawei’s main priority has always been to provide the mobile networks with world-leading technology so they can keep the British people connected 24/7, especially during this difficult time. The UK government should not make a hasty decision without all of the evidence. The 5G decision is vital to the UK’s ‘Gigabit’ strategy and the future of its digital economy.”
In short, BT and Vodafone have lots to lose from a wholesale Huawei ban. On a very basic level, it would put them at a steep competitive disadvantage, particularly when compared to rival carrier O2, which has largely shied away from Huawei in favour of kit from Nokia and Ericsson, and as such would be allowed to operate without any onerous restrictions.
But there’s an argument to be made that because BT and Vodafone have the most to lose, they’re incentivised to exaggerate the potential consequences.
One analyst, John Stand of Strand Consulting, has argued that the figures provided by BT and Vodafone don’t match the amount historically spent on “high risk” kit from ZTE and Huawei. (China’s ZTE is already banned from the UK, and was also included in the category of “high risk” vendors.)
He also said that much of the existing Huawei-made kit was already due to be refreshed, as it had reached its lifespan. The figures cited by BT and Vodafone represented money that had to be spent anyway, he claimed.
The cost, however, will not be merely derived from acquiring new hardware, said Gartner’s senior director of research Sylvain Fabre. Migrating network and customer data will take time (and thus, money), and telcos will also be on the hook for training engineers to manage and deploy the replacement hardware.
“For a new vendor, or when swapping kit, engineers need to qualify on the kit,” Fabre explained.
Strand also argued that any downtime would make BT look poor compared with its regional competition, all of which face pressure to replace equipment from Huawei with alternatives perceived to be “safer.”
While this may be true, Gartner’s Fabre pointed out that there’s a lot networks can do to avoid disruption.
“The risk for outages can be minimised by dealing with limited sections of the network at a time, in the hours of low use (nighttime maintenance window) and with a roll back procedure as a backup in case of issues,” he said. ®
Oracle aims high-end cloudy database release at existing customers in ‘defensive’ move
Oracle has brought out a new Exadata Cloud Service based on the Exadata X8M platform, bringing its high-end persistent memory feature to the cloud. Well, Oracle’s cloud at least.
The transactional and analytics database system Exadata X8M was first released last year in a launch Oracle claimed would reduce IO latency by up to 10 times with its use of persistent memory and remote direct memory access (RDMA) over Ethernet.
Bringing the system to the Exadata Cloud Service makes it available on a consumption basis in the Oracle cloud, including 26 global cloud regions and its on-prem service, Cloud@Customer. The omnipresent enterprise computing biz claimed it could help run applications needing multiple workloads and data types in a single converged Oracle Database, avoiding integration of multiple different database services.
Oracle claimed this meant 2.5 times higher transaction processing IOs, and 10 times better IO latency than its previous Exadata Cloud Service release.
The Exadata Database Machine started life in 2008 as an in-memory database appliance that supports OLTP (transactional) and OLAP (analytical) database systems. It was the result of a collaborative project between Big Red and HP (as it was then known), but was later ported to Sun hardware. A version has been available on Oracle Cloud since 2015.
David Floyer, CTO at Wikibon, said that with IO latency of around 20 microseconds and a 25 PB data warehouse available, Wikibon assessed it as the “highest-performance cloud database service available.”
Regardless of its performance, part of the positioning is to boost Oracle in the cloud market, as it was with the Zoom deal earlier this year, said Philip Carnelley, associate vice president of software research at IDC.
It would suit Oracle’s existing customers who want options in the cloud, he added.
“If you’ve already got loads of Oracle everywhere, then it’s becoming more viable to move what you want into the cloud: that’s their big thrust. There is such a huge install base of Oracle, it’s offering them everything in the cloud, on prem, or wherever they want it. From Oracle’s point of view, it could be seen as defensive. This will appeal to very large organisations with a very large investment in Oracle,” he said.
Carnelley said businesses were looking to move to the cloud as soon as possible, while at the same time IT departments would be reluctant to abandon their existing investments. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: you don’t want to change too many things and fewer things you have to change, the better,” he said.
But outside Oracle’s install base, the appeal becomes less certain. In transaction systems Oracle would go up against IBM’s Db2 and SAP’s in-memory HANA database, both of which are available on the public cloud from the usual suspects.
On the analytical systems, Oracle must compete with cloud-native data warehouses such as Snowflake, AWS’s Redshift, Google’s BigQuery and Microsoft’s Synapse. ®
OpenStack’s 10th birthday is next week, but you get the present of a new release today!
On October 21st, 2010, something new hit the world of enterprise infrastructure software: it was free software called OpenStack “Austin” and comprised the Nova VM-wrangler and the Swift Object store.
Enthusiasm for OpenStack has waxed and waned since. In its early years the project’s openness saw the likes of Cisco, Rackspace and HPE tout it as a better alternative than proprietary clouds from AWS Microsoft.
We know how that turned out: AWS, Azure and Google dominate the cloud and while OpenStack runs plenty of colossal web companies, the project’s own user surveys suggest that the majority of deployments are at organisations with between 100 and 10,000 employees.
China turned out to be a big part of the OpenStack story: its web giants Baidu and Tencent are known users, while the nation’s big three telcos – China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom – also adopted the stack. They’ve adopted it because OpenStack now offers over 40 modules that are collectively capable of doing just about anything a cloudy or webscale stack requires.
The Register will properly assess OpenStack’s first decade soon, but for now we need to consider the project’s 22nd major release, dubbed “Victoria”, which landed earlier this week.
The new release includes over 20,000 code changes by 794 developers from 160 different organisations and over 45 countries.
The OpenStack Foundation rates improved Kubernetes support, including support for containerised network functions, as among its most important new additions. More FPGA support has been added, specifically for Intel and Inspur accelerators, just in time for the SmartNIC craze to crest. And because too much security is seldom enough, the Octavia module now supports HTTP/2 over TLS using Application Layer Protocol Negotiation (ALPN).
The Ironic module, dedicated to provisioning bare metal servers, has a new communications flow for agent tokens that should make it safer to communicate with devices on the edge. Ironic had a 66% increase in activity compared to the OpenStack Ussuri cycle, and added more security for edge deployments by combining the communication flow for agent token which was added in Ussuri with the automatic agent TLS feature. Now, malicious attackers are unable to possibly intercept the “token” and through standard communication exchanges with the Ironic services. The Foundation also highlighted the following enhancements for “complex networking issues”:
- The SDN module Neutron now provides metadata service over IPv6 and has added support for flat networks for Distributed Virtual Routers (DVR), Floating IP port forwarding for the OVN backend, and router availability zones in OVN.
- Load-balancing module Octavia now support version two of the PROXY protocol.
- Container networking module Kuryr has added support for autodetection of VM bridging interface in nested setups.
OpenStack has published a full list of enhancements present in Victoria here. The next OpenStack release has been named “Wallaby” and should hop into view in April 2021. The release’s timeline and goals can be found here. ®
Your web browser running remotely in Cloudflare’s cloud. That’s it. That’s the story
Network services giant Cloudflare wants to host your web browser in the cloud so it can send you only safe content.
On Thursday, the biz invited customers to sign up for the beta release of its Browser Isolation service, a third component in its evolving Cloudflare for Teams offering that came from S2 Systems, a Kirkland, Washington-based startup acquired earlier this year.
Browser isolation generally involves running a headless web browser – the browser foundation without its graphic interface – on a remote server, now commonly referred to as “the cloud,” and then buffering its visual output in some kind of format to send to software on the user’s computer to display. Scrubbing the web content of bad stuff before it’s rendered is a possibility, too, and that’s what Cloudflare’s Browser Isolation appears to do.
There are also client-side variations like Apozy’s Native Browser Isolation, and HP-acquired Bromium (now HP Sure Click), which relies on running browser tasks inside a hardware-isolated micro virtual machine.
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Browser quarantine regimes have won corporate fans as a way to mitigate web-based security threats, and also to manage how workers interact with the unwholesome web. Think of web content as a package containing a bomb; if it explodes, you’ll wish you opened it in a concrete, reinforced bunker so that adjacent bunkers and buildings aren’t taken out. That’s browser isolation: containing any malicious stuff that spills into and out of the browser on your employees’ PCs.
Companies playing in the browser isolation market like Authentic8, Broadcom (Symantec), Menlo Security, and Webgap, among others, generally point to business-justifying stats compiled by consultancies.
Cloudflare, for instance, cites Gartner’s 2018 claim that web browsers are the source of 70 per cent of endpoint compromises. The IT research firm, declaring the public internet “a cesspool of attacks,” also projected that by 2022, 25 per cent of enterprises will adopt browser isolation technology for high-risk users and specific use-cases, up from one per cent in 2017.
Tim Obezuk, principal solutions engineer at Cloudflare, contends that Cloudflare Browser Isolation has an advantage over other approaches that rely on pixel pushing or DOM reconstruction. The former involves streaming rendered screen pixels to a remote user (slow) or loading pages remotely, checking them, then repacking and relaying them to a remote client (misses threats and prone to errors).
“Instead of streaming pixels to the user, Cloudflare Browser Isolation sends the final output of a browser’s web page rendering,” said Obezuk in a blog post. “The approach means that the only thing ever sent to the device is a package of draw commands to render the webpage, which also makes Cloudflare Browser Isolation compatible with any HTML5 compliant browser.”
Cloudflare Browser Isolation relies on Network Vector Rendering (NVR) technology from its S2 Systems acquisition. This intercepts the draw commands directed at the the remote Chromium browser’s Skia graphics rendering layer, then encodes, compressed, and encrypts them in a highly compact form before sending them to the remote client browser – which can be any HTML5-compliant browser (e.g. Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari).
Using an NVR WebAssembly library with an embedded Skia library that has been pushed to the local web browser, the transmitted draw commands can be unpacked, decrypted, and replayed with speed that approaches native device code.
It’s an approach that looks like it could work well given Cloudflare’s edge-centric network – with more than 200 data centers around the globe, latency between the user and the Cloudflare Browser Isolation host is likely to be less than it would be for a service operating under a more centralized network architecture.
We asked Cloudflare if browser add-ons will fit into its isolation approach, and a spokesperson told us:
If hosted browsers of this sort catch on, it may be time to stop referring to them as “user-agents” and call them something more accurate like “admin-agents.” ®
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