Accelerating the pace of service innovation with DelOps
The cloud-based, on-demand XaaS world and the viral scalability of content and services is moving faster with every year. This is putting increasing pressure on communication service providers (CSPs). As they enter the 5G era, which will connect everyone with everything and automate much of life, they are scrambling to raise their game, innovate faster and ensure the quality of digital customer services.
DevOps, agile development and deployment will be essential to achieve this and have received a lot of focus from CSPs and technology vendors in the last few years, to the extent that it might be assumed that DevOps is fait accompli in the telecom world. However, the experience with our CSP customers has been that implementing a DevOps model in their live networks isn’t straightforward.
Compared to the webscale cloud environments where DevOps first appeared a decade or so ago, the complexity of the telecom environment means that DevOps needs to be adapted to be successful, especially in terms of delivery and operations. That’s why we’ve developed DelOps.
The DevOps process of continuous integration, testing, delivery and operations runs into issues in a typical telecom environment at delivery and operations. Most webscale production environments are relatively homogenous. So, although they are deploying software on multiple platforms, they are typically all the same. One build can be deployed multiple times with the same process.
Telecom networks are complex and heterogenous, with multiple technologies and vendors, often in different overlays and with co-existing legacy network environments to consider. The multi-vendor and multi-domain supply chains for software, and multiple production environments, require customized delivery processes for each environment, each with distinct design, deploy, test and operate stages.
Figure 1. The differences between typical IT/webscale and CSP environments
DelOps addresses this complexity by standardizing and automating the software release process, customizing the process for each environment in the CSP network, thus enabling continuous integration and continuous delivery despite the complexity. We think of this as a kind of many-to-many delivery process, which is abstractly pictured in figure 1.
This obviously requires complete automation, to avoid prohibitive time and resource costs. With Nokia DelOps, the automation includes application software images, service design and build artifacts (including operator-specific artifacts), and test harness along with the right entitlements. We also automatically configure applications, as well as automate deployment, integration, test and update on the designated cloud infrastructure. During production and maintenance, we also use extensive automation for applications, upgrades and feature enhancements, with fast failback for high reliability.
We have implemented DelOps with some of our key customers and the benefits speak for themselves. Rollout cycle times have been reduced from months to weeks. Quality has also improved with a much faster drumbeat for patches and upgrades. Customers can also experiment with new features and applications, which is a recognized advantage of DevOps as costs associated with delivery and operations are reduced by automation and lighter process.
The benefits of DelOps are similar to those of DevOps. It’s just that DelOps, with its laser focus on telecoms delivery and operations, makes those benefits achievable in the complex telecom environment. Benefits like the reduced effort associated with test cases and the tracking and managing of release features, as well as the mitigation of risk that automation brings.
While most of these are operational benefits, they do have a direct effect on consumers and enterprises. As well as quality improvements, DelOps also enables faster response times to correct issues. With zero-downtime upgrades, availability of the service is ensured at all times.
One of the well-recognized benefits of DelOps is the way it fosters innovation rooted in actual operational knowledge by enabling collaboration between development and operations teams. This leads to faster development of new features and services, and ends the time wasted by developers creating software that cannot actually be deployed without major modifications. CSPs do not iterate at the same speed as IT or webscale players, nonetheless DelOps will help them to dramatically reduce cycle times.
These benefits will be increasingly important as CSPs move to 5G. The cloud-native distributed 5G core, with its multiple configurations, calls for a highly flexible and automated delivery and operations process. The complexity will increase with 5G services such as dynamic network slicing tied to mission-critical SLAs for enterprise customers and organizations, such as public safety. The requirement to meet their needs quickly and efficiently is only going to increase.
It is easy to get caught up in the technology, but DelOps, like DevOps, is also about developing an organizational culture that promotes values like openness, communication and collaboration. With the move to 5G, these values will become increasingly important if CSPs want to remain relevant to their customers.
We believe DelOps is the way for telecom players to address these issues by automating a great deal that is currently mechanical, simplifying complexity, and breaking down silos to create a more collaborative and creative environment for vendors and internal teams. For CSPs wanting to operationalize DelOps, Nokia has developed a suite of CI/CD services, which we will address in the next blog. We are committed to helping our customers in this vital transformation and strongly believe that it will result in dynamic and innovative services that are more responsive to the needs of the end customer.