It’s another coup for Kubernetes. In a surprise move, Nokia announced plans to hand off its cloud-focused 5G core products to Red Hat, along with 350-plus employees. Analysts told Silverlinings the move will allow Nokia to focus more on software network functions while simultaneously allowing it to serve almost any customer requirement.

Darrell Jordan-Smith, Red Hat’s SVP of Industries and Global Accounts, said on a call with journalists the deal will see Nokia and Red Hat work to transition the former’s cloud network infrastructure platforms – including its Container Services and CloudBand product lines – to a common platform based on Red Hat technologies. More specifically, the integration efforts will aim to deliver Nokia’s solutions using Red Hat’s Kubernetes-based OpenShift platform as well as OpenStack.

As part of the deal, Nokia is transferring 350-plus employees to Red Hat. Nokia SVP and GM of Core Networks Fran Heeran said on the call three categories of employees will be moving over: those working on R&D and product development, its services delivery workers and some of its support teams. Jordan-Smith added the employee hand-off provides Red Hat with a way to quickly upgrade its workforce in the telecom sector, which it views as a critical market.

Asked why Nokia felt the deal was necessary, Heeran said the company had made very clear that it was into building cloud infrastructure to support its own applications. But with the market increasingly seeking platforms that can offer horizontal solutions, Nokia needed to find a way to accommodate that.

He continued: “We’re now between two generations of technology as well. So, we still have the virtual world – the VNF [virtualized network functions] landscape is still probably the most deployed landscape right now in telco – and then obviously everyone over time looking to move to CNF [cloud-native network functions].

Heeran added Nokia would like to see the landscape become a bit simpler, which is part of the reason it chose Red Hat. Essentially, it’s part of a bid to help the industry focus on a smaller number of platforms while still being able to support operator needs for 5G, he said.

That said, Heeran and Jordan-Smith noted openness remains important to both companies and exclusivity is not part of their deal. So, while Nokia will push Red Hat’s infrastructure when operators have no preference, it will also support applications that run on other platforms as well and can deploy its own applications on third party platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure, if necessary.

Analyst take

Dell’Oro Group Research Director Dave Bolan told Silverlinings the Red Hat partnership will allow Nokia to “quickly offer its CNFs in a variety of environments like in a Mobile Network Operator’s (MNO) telco cloud network at the data center or edge locations, or an Enterprise’s standalone Mobile Private Network (MPN).” Further, it’ll allow these to run on bare metal or virtual servers, or on a hyperscaler’s public or hybrid cloud infrastructure.

“We view this as an opportunity for Nokia to have the flexibility to offer solutions for virtually any customer requirement,” he said.

Asked why Nokia chose to team up with Red Hat rather than a cloud hyperscaler, AvidThink’s Roy Chua told Silverlinings Red Hat’s OpenShift and OpenStack platforms map well to Nokia’s Container Services and CloudBand Infrastructure Software products. This will allow Red Hat to “smoothly support on-premises deployment (which many NCS and CBIS customers likely are using).” He added AWS or Microsoft would likely have pushed hard for cloud migration “which not all Nokia customers are ready for.”

In terms of what the deal says about the role of cloud in 5G, Chua argued the partnership indicates “focus is important” for network equipment providers (NEPs) like Nokia. Such companies “should focus on their software network functions like their 5G stacks, OSS, BSS, IMS, etc, where they add the most value” and leave the cloud infrastructure to telco cloud providers like Red Hat, VMware and Wind River.

He added “The NEPs should also expand platform options to include public clouds, whether via an abstraction layer like Red Hat or VMware, or directly on AWS, Azure, GCP as some telcos are now pushing for.”

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