Ottawa-connected Algoblu looks to reshape telco business with Network Element Virtualization Platform

Algoblu uses some novel hardware-centric technology to virtualize the network, enabling telcos to pool network resources and splice them into separate SLA levels that allow more customized service levels. They are just starting to build out their North American channel, which in China consists of telcos, MSPs and CSPs.

Edward Qin, Algoblu’s Chief Product Officer

Today Algoblu, a Chinese company whose North American operations and R&D are both based in Ottawa, is announcing a new Network Element Virtualization [NEV] platform that they think has the potential to reshape the telco business, and greatly improve the custom services telcos can offer customers. The NEV platform facilitates connection-oriented, L2 service through a centralized control network that is hardware-based, with innovative FPGA technology. It lets telcos provide more differentiated services over existing network infrastructures that have been unable to support such services previously, which lets telcos offer more personalized services.  In China, Algoblu sells through three separate channels: telco partners; vertical-focused MSPs, and Cloud Service Providers. In North America, it’s much earlier in the channel rollout, and they have but a single Toronto-area telco partner. They do plan to roll out the full channel model here, however.

Algoblu started out in life in China in 2012 as an SD-WAN startup.

“Our SD-WAN technology was originally an MPLS replacement, providing a cost-effective solution and WAN Optimization of the TCP protocol stack, and before 2018, that’s what we did,” said Edward Qin, Algoblu’s Ottawa-based Chief Product Officer.

In 2018, they shifted focus to network virtualization, to provide a different way of orchestrating network resources to address persistent telco challenges.

“Telcos have complex, silo-style architectures in which every service  – MPLS network, broadband network, ethernet, SD-WAN, 4G/LTE – has a dedicated way to support it,” Qin said. “This siloed way is very costly for them, and very restrictive. They can not offer different classes of services over a unified network, and as a result, the services provided by the network are very limited. As a consumer, if I am unhappy with the quality of my Zoom calls, and am willing to pay more money for better quality for Zoom, I haven’t been able to get that.”

What Algoblu has done is enable this flexibility for telcos by building a centralized controlled network to provide new services.

“This centralized controlled network provides end-to-end Layer 2 service, so they can guarantee something like zero packet loss with Zoom over the existing broadband network,” Qin indicated.

The new NEV platform now being announced does this by virtualizing and orchestrating the network resources – specifically the ports – in a manner that resembles the way that VMware virtualizes x86 server resources.

“Our patented NEV technology doesn’t virtualize the server, but the port, similar to the way that VMware virtualizes x86 server resources,” Qin said. “We can  virtualize a 100 Gbe port into 100,000 individual atomic channels through our self-developed FPGA chip. With this we can allocate multiple atomic channels to form the Service Interface to provide the services for customers. NEV can literally virtualize any resource, even 4G and 5G, as long as there is an Ethernet port. Like VMware, we create a resource pool where we virtualize all network resources and make it a unified resource pool. A carrier normally will have just the 100 Gbe port, which they cannot slice into small pieces – but this can.”

The secret sauce that enables all this is that 16nm process FPGA chip, which was co-developed with Missing Link Electronics, a San Jose-based specialist firm with German-based R&D that creates FPGA design methodologies for increased productivity. The FPGA-based SmartNIC is what makes the architecture work. Algoblu says that with it, the cost per bit decreases by more than four times and operation efficiency increases three times.

Qin cited three customer use cases. The first involves network slicing where NEV can guarantee three classes of service, one for each application.

“There is an 8MB bandwidth one allocated for WebEx, a 12MB one for AWS and a 20MB from the branch to headquarters,” he said. “The single ethernet port is sliced into small pieces with guaranteed bandwidth for each application, and the  connection is through the NEV backbone, not the internet.”

The second use is an industrial IoT one, in a smart factory environment.

“They use an 8K high-def camera to monitor the production line, and the pictures are sent to the cloud for quality control checking,” Qin said. “We guarantee 200mb upstream bandwidth and 500 ms processing time per picture. You cannot do this over the internet and guarantee this type of service.”

The third use case is a streaming game customer.

“Our end-to-end SLA guarantees latency under 20 ms (actually 15.8 ms) with no packet loss, and less than 0.1 ms jitter, from the player to the game servers,” Qin said.

The reason behind Algoblu’s Ottawa-based R&D is a fairly common one in the tech industry. Qin is Canadian, a Cisco Canada veteran, and he built out his team among his connections in the industry.

“Today we have less than 10 people in Canada, and it is purely an engineering team,” he indicated. “It is not a sales operation, not yet. We have a plan after the product launch to expand the organization in Canada, as well as in the U.S. where we do not have an organization today.”

The plan is to build out a sales and marketing operation locally as they build out their broader go to market strategy, which in Canada is still very rudimentary compared to China.

“Right now in China we have three different categories of partners,” Qin said. “One is telcos. CIK Telecom, based in Markham, is both a customer and a channel partner, who resells us. That’s the only telco partner today in Canada. In comparison, we have 27 of them in China.”

The other two partner categories are still aspirational here, although the plan is to build them out.

“One is vertical industry MSPs, like retail, energy transportation and education,” Qin said. “We have 85 of these total in China. The third are Cloud Service Providers, around  AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and SaaS applications.”