Cloud Native Solution for 5G Core

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

Venkatesh (Venky) Aravamudhan


This post intends to highlight how cloud native concepts are perceived by telecom operators, their assessment/concerns and as well guidelines for software vendors. Why all this fuzz about cloud native architecture all of a sudden ? 3GPP introduced 5G standards wherein signaling interfaces (core) are all HTTP/2 based and this augurs well for a cloud based solution.


Traditionally, telecom products were based on proprietary hardware and software until few years back when virtualized solution took a front seat enabling COTS hardware to be used for most software components. However, so called real benefits of virtualized environment remain a stretch goal, with ETSI, OSM, ONAP & other frameworks still enhancing their capabilities. Latest industry trends indicate “5G” and “Cloud Native” are the most popular buzzwords used. Operators architecture & planning teams are working on deploying 5G radio (NR) in their current networks followed by core network shortly.


What is Cloud Native ?


In simple terms for a telecom operator, cloud native provides a mechanisms for all network functions & functional modules to be managed and operated in a common way. 

Cloud native principles are based on the basic principles listed below

ecomposition of software into multiple micro-service/(s) and run on containers (Read as no monolithic software)

  1. Independent LCM for micro-services

  2. Micro-Services are ephemeral (data layer shall be separate and cannot be part of connectivity or business layer)

  3. Every activity is a code, i.e., every change, features are all software driven

  4. No Manual configuration at all

  5. Employ Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) processes which allows for rapid development, testing, building and releasing software

  6. DevOps support - Utilize common tools at development, test and for operations to ensure better alignment across teams thereby faster fixing of bugs

  7. All events are sent as data streams (Logs, metrics, tracing data are sent as streams for collection, storage and visualizing)

The micro-service architectural style is an approach to developing a single application as a suite of small services, each running in its own process and communicating with lightweight mechanisms, often an HTTP resource API.
— Martin Fowler

Source : https://pivotal.io/cloud-native

Telecom Operator perspective

In the current environment, most telecom operators have invested heavily on the virtualized solution albeit with mild support for NFV use cases. It has to be noted that virtualized solution solves the problems of not allowing proprietary hardware into their networks. 

5G core software suppliers have filled the operators to think and research on cloud native solution. Operators are thinking, researching and evaluating if cloud native provides the necessary uplift to the existing networks. It has to be said, some operators are upbeat and others are in “wait and watch mode”. From the operator perspective, following concerns and questions linger


  1. Open Source tools are used in most cloud native environment (thanks to CNCF !), support for these tools and fixes are dependent on open source projects 

  2. With heavy investment done in virtualized environment, re-usability of the same

  3. Inter-working between Container environment and virtualized environment for LCM, manageability and operations

  4. In a multiple vendor scenario, NFs may have been developed with different tool sets hence running multiple cloud native environment is a potential option and is it a trouble ?

  5. Continuous Deployment is still far away from being a reality near term 

  6. Should operators create their own IaaS and PaaS ?

  7. Up skill of existing workforce to be in-line with this cloud native approach

  8. Faesibility of running 4G network nodes along with 5G nodes, inter-working may be an option to understand

  9. Identifying which vendors provide “Cloud Native” solution and not a mere “Cloud Washing” solution

  10. Compliance of Cloud Security is a topic of IT hence company wide policies may include stringent rules that need to be adhered 

  11. Clear migration strategy without compromising cloud native principles 

Cloud washing (also spelled cloudwashing) is the purposeful and sometimes deceptive attempt by a vendor to rebrand an old product or service by associating the buzzword “cloud” with it.
- Rouse, Margaret, “cloud washing”, in SearchCloudStorage‎

Cloud Network Function provider takeaway

Network Function software providers need to be wary of the fact that operators have not reaped much benefits from the virtualized solution, hence there is a tendency to brand, cloud native as a marketing gimmick, to sell software. Mobile vendors need solutions to ensure operators confidence is gained by employing some of these concepts

  1. Avoid “Cloud Washing” solution and follow cloud native principles to build software — don’t provide operators with the same problem as existing virtualized solution

  2. Create real cloud native solution with micro service(s) to be run top of container and managed by container orchestration environment

  3. Data layer clearly segregated form business and connectivity layer Support containers running micro-services to be supported atop virtualized and as well bare metal infrastructure

  4. Utilize open source tools that are adaptable & utilize Open APIs that can be used across customer PaaS 

  5. Ensure best practices on naming conventions, API versioning to enable cleaner solution

  6. Clear strategy for supporting Open Source tools to maintain operator SLAs

  7. Automate testing framework and run Continuous Integration (CI) process within your development to include securities scans (malware, dependencies, vulnerability checks…etc.)

  8. Consistently evaluate security and vulnerability checks in every Agile sprint or couple of sprints at the max

  9. Compliance with CIS benchmarks, NSA, NIST, GDPR and 3GPP security guidelines consistently will help customer with additional confidence

  10. Build Continuous Deployment pipeline in your labs and show case the same as an example to operators to build confidence

  11. Additional help to build Continuous Deployment pipeline at an operator environment may be an additional incentive 

  12. Follow frameworks such as Agile to develop software to ensure faster

  13. Mechanisms to integrate with existing operations and serviceability tools (e.g. SNMP trap receiver, log aggregator) will be a biggest add-on (Operator’s operations team will support your solution)

It is expected that cloud native adoption is a matter of time, from an operator standpoint, to support 5G use cases. Comparisons with already existing virtualized or bare metal solution during the initial phase are inevitable but this will gradually decrease with increasing cloud native deployments.


Summary


Cloud native solution for 5G generation mobile core provides benefits such as automated mechanisms for delivery of builds, automated upgrades, life cycle management…etc. This may be the first step forward, in creating networks, which are self-learning and adapting.

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