Implementing microservices and containers in a cloud-native core
Communications service providers (CSPs) have begun implementing network functions virtualization (NFV) within the core as part of their network evolution. Although many CSPs have yet to complete this transition — or even start for some — the industry has already begun to move ahead by extending NFV with next-generation cloud-native architectures that include container and micro-service deployment options. This latest trend has major consequences for core infrastructure, architecture and operations. We must cautiously adopt microservices and containers in the core to ensure that reliability, availability, security and support for telco operations is maintained.
Much of the excitement about microservices and containers relates to webscale players, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, who inspired the cloud-native approach. There is an understandable tendency to want to replicate their success. But, it is important to remember that they don’t have the same requirements as CSPs in terms of performance, reliability and security. Simply climbing on the webscale bandwagon ignores the specific complexities of the telco environment.
Nonetheless, micro-services and containers have become a hot topic within the wireless industry for good reason. Within the evolution of the 4G architecture, control and user plane separation (CUPS) enables more efficient scaling, reuse and programmability. There is a similar evolution in the 5G standards to a services-based architecture — and the new service and business opportunities it will enable. These evolutions are best implemented using cloud-native principles.
The cloud-native approach evolves the goal of deploying network functions in the cloud by fully embracing its capabilities and its possibilities. It introduces techniques such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) to create greater agility and nimbleness for interlinked development and operations (DevOps)-style developments. It enables the creation of massive-scale networks that are measurable, manageable and scalable. Only with a cloud-native core, coupled with the appropriate use of microservices and containers, can CSPs realize the operational benefits and the service agility needed for both 4G and 5G.
Implementing micro-services and containers should be done judiciously. Network functions that are split to too granular a level create additional overhead and degrade overall performance. For this reason, the appropriate use of micro-services and containers for a network function within the cloud-native core is strongly recommended
The implementation of containers also gives rise to the possibility of further disaggregating network function architecture, including load balancing, call processing and the database layers. These layers could be provided by the infrastructure environment, provided they can meet the operational requirements of the network functions, offering further potential enhancements to software feature velocity.
Nokia is committed to the appropriate incorporation of micro-services and containers with a cloud-native core architecture. We will adhere to 3GPP architectural requirements as well as leverage open-source elements whenever possible to provide our customers with a smooth evolution path. However, we also recognize the practical limitations and diversity that exist in today’s container environments, which could affect performance of the cloud-native core. Thus, careful consideration and evaluation of the various options is advised.
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