Insights from ABI Research’s recent report from ‘Cloud-native Networking for a 5G Era
5G is making its debut across the globe. Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are working hard to bring 5G service to their networks. Yet, the highly distributed architecture (telco edges) and diversity of application types brings lots of new operational and architectural constraints to 5G networking.
To make 5G cost-effective and a source of growth, CSPs are eager to implement cloud-native technologies for 5G-driven networking, just like webscalers did in data centers, in order to realize the benefits of network agility, scale, resiliency and vendor choice. But this approach still comes with challenges.
Don Alusha, Senior Analyst in the Telco Digitization practice at ABI Research, has shared a number of insights you should know around implementing 5G and addresses them in the recent report: Cloud-native Networking for a 5G Era.
#1 Learn Lessons from existing Cloud-native Technologies
Starting with webscalers, we can learn a number of lessons and understand how they already successfully implemented cloud-native concepts. The report covers the evolution of cloud-native technologies from physical and proprietary equipment to scalable software-based networks (SDN and white box-based).
This focuses on three key areas:
- Infrastructure immutability: networking is loosely coupled with the underlying resource infrastructure, meaning that any infrastructure failure can be replaced by another instance without any impact on the networking service
- Ecosystem openness: no need to configure proprietary protocols to support any end-to-end network service
- Declarative DevOps approach: A model-driven approach is more suitable to agility and scale than the old script-driven network model
#2 Benefits of Current Cloud-native Implementations
The report explains the benefits that cloud-native technologies bring to CSPs:
- Scalability: supports the load of tens of thousands of self-healing multi-tenant nodes without functional failure
- Agility and maintainability: creates network services easily with loosely coupled, lightweight virtualization technologies like containers
- Resiliency: built-in robustness and availability
- Resource use efficiency: no dedicated resources, unlike virtual machine technologies
- Avoid vendor lock: promotes cross-vendor, cross-domain multi-cloud deployments
Network Functions (NFs) can fully deliver these benefits when moving from physical appliances to containerized, microservice-based disaggregated architectures. The report explains how Network Functions have moved from physical boxes to VNFs (Virtual Network Functions) to CNFs (Cloud Network Functions) and that the NF of the future will be probably be a combination of the three types.
#3 Where and How does Cloud-native fit into 5G?
With CSPs accustomed to their traditional integrated networking model, moving to a cloud-native, disaggregated model presents challenges. The first issue is to identify the feasibility of the new model for different network functions. Different user, control and database-related network functions must be considered.
The report emphasizes that “An inherently software-centric network, such as 5G, is almost certain to supplant the verticalized, siloed operations of today, but on the condition that there is wider ecosystem openness and disaggregation.”
#4 5G Networks Need Multi-layered Multi-domain Orchestration and automation
Cloud-native applications and services are built by assembling a set of microservices across multiple domains (public, hybrid cloud) using a general orchestration and automation toolkit. This toolkit must dynamically automate high-level services into the underlying network and computing resources through a network/resource orchestrator with open programmable APIs and standard interfaces (Yang, Netconf and others).
With 5G networks meant to span over multiple domains and verticals, ABI Research expects that “Increasingly, CSPs are recognizing the need for E2E multi-layered orchestration that can provide the agility to quickly compose assets into new products and services in reaction to market needs. Vendors should replace manual processes or scripting with DevOps and programmable network architectures, so that on-demand services requested by the business are readily available.”
This means that an end-to-end multi-layered multi-domain orchestration is more important than ever (making networks “application-aware”).
#5 CSP Recommendations for the Next Generation of Networking
Finally, the most interesting part the report from ABI Research was the recommendations by CSPs for deploying cloud-native networking initiatives. While bringing the cloud to networks represents a profound transformation for many CSPs, the strategy is different for CSPs (Tier 1 operators) that have an abundance of legacy equipment supporting their network as opposed to greenfield operators. Either way, CSPs must collaborate with equipment vendors and startups to identify the sweet spots in their network or for deploying at a larger scale. CSPs must ensure that any considered solution is proven and supports high capacity, efficient scale and brings greater visibility.
With CSPs looking toward open disaggregated network architectures to meet the 5G architecture modularity and business growth, this transformation will also be driven by both changes in culture and processes. This shift stands to improve network processes and to meet growing demand, while being inexpensive to deploy and maintain.