Why telcos should move from ‘cloud’ to ‘cloud native’
Get ready to run
Imagine two back-packing friends on a camping adventure. One of them storms into the tent and shouts to his friend that there is a bear running toward them. The other friend quickly starts to put on his running shoes. As he starts lacing up his shoes, his shocked partner asks him how on earth he thinks he will be able to outrun the bear.
The response? “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I only have to run faster than you.”
In many ways, this little story reflects our current age of disruption in the world of telco.
Cloud technology is starting to be adopted by telecom operators across the world, primarily driven by the move to virtualize mobile core networks in response to data traffic growth, and in preparation for roll-out of 5G networks. However, despite a surge in deployments, many operators are increasingly frustrated by the results.
With disruption such a big giant webscalers at every doorstep of content service providers, (CSP) there will be those who get eaten and those who will emerge victorious. The difference between the two is who has the running shoes, which in our case is being cloud-native.
Getting down to the basics
The first order of business is to define what is the cloud, what are its benefits and how cloud is implemented in the communication industry.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definition of Cloud reads: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction”
Now try saying that in a single breath!
Cloud technology isn’t new. Although the notion of delivering computing as a service, where users pay for shared resources based on their usage, has been around for ages, it was not until a couple of years ago that CSPs started to embrace cloud technology.
Telco cloud, which we define as deployment of virtualized and programmable telecoms infrastructure (NFV, SDN, AI, automation, distributed computing, and more) is starting to be adopted by telecoms operators across the world, primarily driven by the move to virtualize mobile core networks in response to data traffic growth, and in preparation for roll-out of 5G networks.
The major benefits for telco cloud implementation are:
CAPEX benefits through higher utilization levels of assets, aggregation gains and simplified hardware inventories.
Operational efficiencies - High degree of automation and elasticity. Grow capacity as needed, move capacity from service to another based on demand. Pay as you grow. Automated software upgrades. Recover automatically from failures.
OPEX improvements through reduced manual labor. Improved resiliency and better customer experience.
Business agility - Cloud platform enabling new services creating new revenue streams.
The challenges with telco cloud
Today, CSPs’ clouds are mostly private (they own it) and mostly central (in only a very few places).
The original goals for cloud were to decouple growth from cost, and rapidly deliver new services.
They have done this in the 4G core, IMS/VoLTE, end-of-life replacement, and increasingly for Cloud RAN.
Solutions to date are far from open and vendor neutral. The ability to monitor, optimize and modify systems are far from ubiquitous. Performance is acceptable, but nothing to write home about, and not yet proven at mass scale. Examples of truly innovative services built on telco cloud platforms are few and far between.
In addition, the initial telco cloud mostly ported big network elements into big virtualized network functions (VNF). These are too big, consume too many cloud infrastructures resources, and use legacy operations. It is unwieldy to deploy, scale, upgrade and maintain.
Many of the legacy operations are too manual. It simply isn’t fast enough to quickly turn up a slice right now, for a factory that needs another slice right away. Or to deal with the hundredfold increase in operational activities that come with cloud and 5G’s many devices, services, and slicing.
It is a complex architecture to manage. After doing all that work to set it up, actions such as integrating and upgrading simply take too much time and effort.
In addition, traditional VNF-based cloud architecture, had no standard procedures to develop & benchmark VNFs, which led to a lack of architectural guidelines for VNFs and no standard protocols or configuration policies for VNF across vendors. Due to such challenges, manual efforts are needed each time to configure, update and testing for VNFs and this is one of the roadblocks for service providers to realize the NFV implementation success.
Apart from above challenges there are few more obstacles related to VNFs. Like consumption of hardware resources by VNF (to be highly available) is on higher side, multi tenancy is not supported, VNFs cannot be reused or shared, APIs are not provided for automating tasks like scaling, configuring, patching and updating versions.
Cloud-native bag is full of benefits
For 5G, service providers need more from cloud. Cloud must be re-architected to cloud-native so that they can get breakthrough business agility in rapidly onboarding new apps and deploying & operating new services. The scale of 5G brings many more devices and a very diverse mix of services, there’s no way legacy operations can keep up, they need much more automation, especially for slicing. And 5G brings new performance demands, so the cloud needs to move towards the edge, for the sake of low-latency, localized reliability, and traffic steering; for that CSP need cloud-native’s efficiency.
I believe that cloud-native migration is a journey, and like every journey, the most challenging part is always taking the first few steps.
Great technology is a start, but CSPs need more than that to deliver sustainable business value – they need to balance technology and people. By embedding the right business processes and workflows within their day-to-day operations, they’ll be able to flawlessly execute their cloud strategy, achieve their business objectives and get it right from the start.
For more information on Nokia cloud native technology check out our website.