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A network of fibre-optic cables more than 540k km long, a widespread presence in 34 countries around the world with 159 points of presence (PoP) and 6 data centres: this is the ‘asset portfolio’ of Sparkle, a leading company in national and international voice, data and multimedia services, which in recent years began to invest in the development of an intelligent and distributed infrastructure. At the root of this strategy, there was the desire to improve the customer experience and to be increasingly closer to its customer base physically, while at the same time enhancing Sparkle’s offer.
“To achieve this, we have pursued a model that we like to refer to as ‘pay as you grow’. In other words, this is an economic scalability model capable of adapting to real business needs”, explains Ferruccio Antonelli, Sparkle’s Head of Backbone Solutions Marketing. This effort has translated into a sustainable evolution of the company’s core business, from infrastructure to transport and up to Sparkle’s wholesale voice and mobile services. Moreover, the company has also enhanced the solutions it offers, by first reselling public cloud platforms – to offer them to customers integrated with traditional connectivity services – and subsequently investing in its data centres, creating private cloud architectures.
Over time, a series of innovations saw the adoption of edge connectivity and IoT solutions, of an omnichannel approach and ‘Data as a Service’ philosophy, to obtain the maximum integration of systems and solutions and the greatest possible proximity with customers. “Connectivity between company offices, data centres and the cloud is essential for facilitating the secure and reliable creation and execution of corporate applications”, Antonelli says. He moreover explains that edge technology was the key to guaranteeing maximum system reliability.
Indeed, Sparkle boasts a distributed presence across the territory, and each point of presence is interconnected by powerful network infrastructures. The widespread presence of this infrastructure already enables the company to be close to its customers ‘natively’: an optimal situation for edge services. “Our PoPs are an invaluable asset and are also sought after by large cloud providers because they are expensive for them to acquire or to build from scratch and quite complex to manage across the territory”, Antonelli says.
Sparkle’s client portfolio includes multinational customers and national service/network providers and offers international voice and data transport. Especially for service providers, it is imperative to reduce IT costs, to optimise connection costs to peers and data centres and, above all, to ensure the availability of reliable and secure solutions, without having to take on the associated management burden.
To support this scenario and bring its infrastructures and services closer to the customer, Sparkle has embarked on a path of evolution of its infrastructure. This path focuses on first integrating the cloud functionality, then edge services, into the network’s PoPs, thus bringing the computational and storage capacity closer to the customers’ offices. This reduces the access latency to these resources and mitigates the issues of reliability and security associated with long transmission routes.
As Antonelli explains, an edge program has been launched on existing PoPs. It is based on hyper-convergent technology and is designed to encompass a mix of processing, networking and storage capacities to avoid the need for separate technologies. It’s an infrastructure that Sparkle has already started to ‘fully’ exploit the voice communication platform to software solutions that run on the edge, while also allowing customers to enable new business scenarios such as IoT, even in the absence of proprietary infrastructure.
Thanks to the design consultancy of Net Reply – a Reply group company focused on network innovation solutions for telco, utilities and large companies – Sparkle has also decided to launch a project to enable the efficient use of its distributed and highly disaggregated computing platform. To achieve this, Net Reply designed and proposed a high-level orchestration model, introducing a so-called service orchestrator into the architectural design. The orchestrator is capable of accommodating user service requests, collecting computing, network and various other technological domain resources, and ‘building’ the service in an optimal way with respect to the customer's requirements. This favours territorial proximity when possible, to ensure data compliance with the applicable regulation, or keeping the service close to the user to reduce latency and enable new scenarios and services.
“The main goal of the architecture proposed by Net Reply, which has been designed at the concept level and laboratory-experimented together with several vendors, is to simplify geographical and technological diversity, for a version of our distributed platform that is easy to manage and sized to the operators’ and customers’ needs”, explains Antonelli. Indeed, the cloud resource orchestrator is capable of managing all edge nodes and related resources, transparently harmonising the full Sparkle infrastructure: from the various central data centres to the numerous PoPs distributed across the continents and to the network. Antonelli says, “Working together with Net Reply also gave us the chance to analyse the technological integration, predicting the orchestrator’s ability to interface with the technologies already adopted by Sparkle and to ensure synergy with the operational tools”.
The architecture designed in collaboration with Net Reply allows Sparkle to offer advanced services to its customers (both companies and service providers). Most importantly, it is key to enable a model in which it is possible to create an ecosystem of partners capable of accessing the platform, offering their services on the marketplace while helping to create value for the entire business system by boosting economic benefit.