Drivers for change: Connectivity commercialization
Today’s consumers expect goods and services to be delivered seamlessly within days or even hours; and speed, convenience, and customization define a good service. Reliable connectivity and customization underpin the quality of telecoms services. By deploying a 5G standalone (SA) architecture, operators will be able to monetize the enterprise opportunity in much the same way.
Direction of change: Cloud rush, edge push
Network functions virtualization (NFV) has improved network flexibility, programmability, and automation, but there is still work to be done. For 5G SA to enable new revenue-generating services, it needs to be delivered over a cloud-native infrastructure; and if operators want to deliver services in a flexible and agile manner, they need to decompose today’s heavyweight, monolithic deployments of virtual network functions (VNFs) running in virtual machines (VMs) into a microservices-based architecture that supports container-based network functions.
Where these services are hosted is also changing. In order to offer more advanced services reliant on ultra-low latency, real-time advanced analytics, and increased data security, the industry is building out its edge computing footprint, putting parts of the network closer to the end user for a better customer experience; and edge will require high-performance hardware to enable the enhanced connectivity required to support 5G services. Again, a microservices architecture is preferable to ensure the edge nodes can be as compact and efficient as possible, without the need to run up monolithic VM workloads. 5G SA deployments will support the programmability necessary to deliver a variety of use cases to enterprise customers.
Challenges for change: Legacy, complexity, carrier-grade
A key part of network transformation for 5G will be telco cloud operations but the industry is still facing challenges around cloud computing. Operators will need to run networks in a hybrid environment for quite some time because it is too costly to rip and replace current VM deployments. Even tier-one operators that have helped drive the industry’s shift to cloud infrastructure will have to deal with the complexity of managing legacy physical infrastructure, virtual infrastructure, and cloud infrastructure until operators can scale up and the older infrastructure can be decommissioned.
This also assumes that today’s telco cloud infrastructures are carrier-grade and can replace legacy systems. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), part of the Linux Foundation, has been gaining traction in its efforts to give the industry carrier-grade blueprints, but they will be the first to admit there is still further work to do.
Overall, the industry is keen to benefit from next-generation network slicing, edge computing, and a wider range of services for enterprise customers. To reap the benefits of 5G, operators will need to deploy telco cloud technology to enable an agile, programmable carrier-grade network that can perform at scale. Smooth evolution from OpenStack to OpenStack plus Kubernetes convergence is imperative to operators’ evolution to 5G.
Huawei TCC spotlight
The telco industry understands the benefits of cloud computing and operations. They have better cost efficiencies, optimized resource availability, and dynamic capacity. Huawei is responding to these needs with its Telco Converged Cloud (TCC) portfolio for 5G SA core networks. TCC covers B2B and B2C applications and can run from central data centers to lighter-edge data centers. Huawei understands the need for carriers to deploy and use a microservices-based architecture, but in a way that can protect legacy investment by leveraging existing architecture. Huawei’s customers can run current networks on OpenStack, and then transition to next-generation networking through a software upgrade to TCC (convergence of OpenStack and Kubernetes) instead of requiring a separate deployment of Kubernetes.
This will give Huawei customers the advantage of greater agility for their services, as well as ensuring that they can reduce total cost of ownership by avoiding a new, complex Kubernetes deployment and running two independent platforms. Huawei’s TCC runs on both x86 and ARM servers; and the company expects to improve resource efficiency by 30% as both OpenStack and Kubernetes-based systems will be able to utilize shared hardware resources, rather than having to duplicate hardware resource pools. Where edge nodes are concerned it has focused on making its deployments lightweight, using four vCPUs, and the ability to run the Kubernetes module in the edge network if desired.
For additional Kubernetes support, the company has invested in enhancing its multi-tenant security to improve isolation between tenants and container security enhancement. The current Kubernetes interfaces are not standardized by ETSI yet. Huawei believes that operators will avoid complex integration and troubleshooting, and be able to accelerate their 5G service rollouts if they run network functions in Kubernetes from the same VNF or containerized network function (CNF) vendor. To this end, the company noted that it had entered into approximately 700 commercial telco cloud contracts by May 2020.
Depending on the stage of network transformation, some operators will continue virtualizing specific network functions, porting them off dedicated hardware to run in VMs. Those further along network transformation include control and user plane acceleration, SmartNIC integration for data path acceleration, and support for cloud-native, containerized functions. At this stage, the industry gets closer to realizing the benefits of telco cloud. With TCC, Huawei is positioned to help operators migrate infrastructure enhancements based on cloud maturity – a benefit to any operator looking for network transformation partners.
Stephanie Gibbons, Principal Analyst, Carrier Network Software
Christopher Silberberg, Research Analyst, Carrier Network Software
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