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Building the Cloud Native Telco – How Orange’s CTO is Driving Network Transformation

A comprehensive introduction to the Cloud Native Telco concept, and how it is being pioneered by visionaries like Laurent Leboucher, Group CTO for Orange.

As the TMF writes in this interview with Laurent Leboucher, Group CTO for Orange, they are seeking to apply a Cloud Native approach to their core network infrastructure.

In 2020 CIO Thierry Souche set the scene, saying that the Only Way is Cloud Native.

Laurent is extending the work he began for the IT systems of Orange, where he applied a Cloud DevOps model to transform their business systems and is now leveraging that learning to similarly modernize their core network.

Orange is testing how its vision will work in practice on Pikeo, an experimental, fully cloudified 5G standalone network, where they are developing network functions as microservices deployed in cloud infrastructure in containers orchestrated by Kubernetes, with the access network based on Open RAN principles and technologies.

Cloud Native Best Practices

Like every enterprise sector telecommunications is seeking to harness the evolution of IT pioneered by Netflix, building hyper-scale systems using containers and a microservices architecture to replicate the same capability for telco platforms as Netflix has achieved for global streaming.

For CSPs this has a number of dimensions. In his TechNative blog Liron Golan of Nokia provides an overview of this scenario and for VMware describes the journey to get there.

  • Virtualizing network functions. Since the advent of the Cloud era telcos have been undertaking to virtualize networking functions (NFVs) previously executed via dedicated hardware solutions. ‘CNFs’ represent the next iteration of this evolution – Cloud Native Network Functions.
  • Utilize Kubernetes for containers. Telcos are prioritizing Kubernetes for containerizing and managing these network functions, tailoring it for their industry and adopting it for key use cases such as an Edge platform.
  • Employing a microservices architecture. The next step in this evolution is to decompose monolithic applications into modular microservice components. Telecom Review describes how Nexign has enabled Megafon to build a ‘microservices factory‘ that underpins their strategy to act as a digital ecosystem platform.
  • Directly using Cloud providers. SDX writes how Telefónica Germany and Verizon for deploying 5G to the Cloud, using their services like Outposts and Wavelength.

Max Kamenetsky of Google describes Five Do’s and Don’ts for embarking on this journey, including ensuring that the process simplifies the complex network estate, modernizes legacy operations and avoids duplication of infrastructure for virtualized and containerized workloads. Google offers a video series on the Cloudification of telecomms networks.

Vendor Innovations

This evolution is being accelerated through a rich ecosystem of supporting vendor innovations, occuring across the full estate of telco network infrastructure and also the business systems they manage it with.

For example Amdocs are applying the microservices architecture to the OSS/BSS layer, creating Microservices360 (MS360), an end-to-end carrier-grade accelerated microservices development platform for its own new generation of products, with a full SDK for cloud-native code development and deployment, that leverages the Red Hat OpenShift container platform deployable solution architecture to optimally run on carrier-grade Intel computing and storage technology.

The network itself is the critical challenge, given the performance and reliability required of telco levels of traffic.

Kubernetes at the Edge is proving to be a key use case, and there is a particular synergy with 5G network deployments – ‘5G is going Cloud Native‘. F5 announced BIG-IP Service Proxy for Kubernetes (SPK) and Carrier-Grade Aspen Mesh, two infrastructure solutions aimed at supporting the deployment and operation of cloud-native 5G standalone core networks.

Core network services are being offered as containerized, microservices-based solutions, such as Ericsson offering a Cloud Native IMS. NEC teamed up with Redhat to offer ‘multicloud’ capable 5G solutions, and VMware launched their 5G Telco Cloud Platform, which includes Tanzu Kubernetes Grid – an embedded Kubernetes distribution, enabling CSPs to build, manage and run containerized workloads across private, telco, edge and public clouds.

Leveraging the Enterprise Cloud

The general principle of this trend is the opportunity for the Telco sector to learn from and leverage the learning and innovations that have long been underway in the Cloud industry and particularly from advanced enterprise adopters.

For example this AWS white paper describes the hyper-scaler is applying their expertise to the Telco scenario, working with RIFT.ware to define a carrier-grade infrastructure for end-to-end automated management and operation of 5G slices, providing an environment to automate the onboarding and life cycle management of multi-vendor 5G network slices across any Cloud environment.

In particular the sweet spot of the Cloud Native Telco opportunity is the potential to transform the DevOps model, leveraging and applying the innovations developed for enterprise teams so that they can achieve a much higher frequency of code deployments and thus output a much faster rate of new digital services. For telcos digital services are their products and so this is the primary strategic benefit.

This includes best practices such as ‘GitOps’, developed by Weaveworks, who define their Telco solution here:

“GitOps has helped to make Deutsche Telekom’s containerized clusters easier to manage and more responsive. They require less human management intervention. The team’s ROI can be judged by the scale of its achievements—managing thousands of clusters with a tiny team, and managing cloud development and cloud operations continuously.”

Another key feature of the enterprise DevOps world is the use of the ‘PaaS’ model (Platform as a Service), so that developers are empowered with a pre-defined set of low level component parts they can build on rather than reinventing the wheel, and Sagar Nangare explores how this might be replicated to the Telco world through the ‘XGVela’ architecture:

Conclusion

Netflix ushered in a new era of web scale IT, a technology architecture that naturally leverages the global, elastic capacity of the Cloud and enables a high velocity rate of digital service innovation.

The enterprise sector has been quick to understand how this approach can be applied to their existing IT estate and a vendor ecosystem has organized around fulfilling that potential. Smart CSPs will be next to build upon that learning further and leverage that momentum to replicate it to achieve the same for Telco services.

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