Upgrading systems to run cloud-native apps is key to telco success in the 5G era – but the migration won’t happen overnight.
Like lots of other businesses, telcos have been moving towards cloud-based architectures in recent years. From a BSS perspective, the move away from legacy systems to a ‘cloud BSS’ brings the promise of lower costs, automation and the ability to roll-out new product offerings at speed.
The move to software-defined and virtual networks has helped expediate this migration, but it is taking time. As Ericsson noted in a recent paper, legacy BSS systems may in some cases be “decades-old” but are still being used by telcos around the world today. This makes a quick switch to a fully cloud-based architecture impossible.
“Implementing a completely new, side-by-side stack while maintaining the legacy one isn’t really an option,” writes Ericsson’s Israel Mor. “A gradual, stepwise re-architecture of BSS components to a cloud architecture is needed in order to get the benefits of the cloud while safeguarding existing revenues.”
In a recent report, TM Forum outlined how this situation has led to some confusion around what precisely counts as cloud migration: is it simply “lifting and shifting” existing applications using cloud containers or is it the deployment of applications designed from the outset to be ‘cloud native’?
This question has come to the fore in the 5G era, where telcos need to quickly deploy – and quickly monetise – new types of services and target new types of customers.
As Nokia explains: “Cloud must be re-architected to cloud-native so that [telcos] can get breakthrough business agility in rapidly onboarding new apps and deploying and 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.”
To understand how these cloud-native apps work in practice we need to dig a little deeper into the technology and understand the terminology. Intel provides the following high-level description of the four important features of a cloud-native set-up:
- Microservices: services that work together as a distributed system. Microservices are small, focused and autonomous.
- Containers: a method of virtualisation that bundles an application with all its dependencies – required executables, binaries, libraries and configuration files, for example – into a singular package.
- Continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD): a DevOps technique that supports frequent code changes or service updates (sometimes daily) while verifying that those changes do not negatively affect service functionality.
- Dynamic cloud-based management: taking advantage of automation, Containers-as-a-Service (CaaS), and other orchestration tools to keep the network up and running 24/7.
Meanwhile, Ericsson has developed a “holistic” approach to cloud-native that requires four areas to be fully addressed in order to maximise the benefits: 1/ application design and development, 2/ technology and infrastructure, 3/ processes and ways of working, and 4/ management and orchestration.
TM Forum backs the need for such a holistic approach: “The challenge for CSPs lies in converting the enthusiasm for all things digital at the top of the organisation into a detailed vision for the entire business,” it says. “Without a holistic strategy, cloud migration could fall victim to short-term budgeting decisions.”
Thankfully, vendors are innovating at pace in a bid to help telcos meet these challenges. In January, for example, Google Cloud and Nokia announced a partnership to bring new solutions to CSPs built on a cloud-native 5G Core. Based on Google Cloud’s Anthos platform, the deal enables CSPs to build an ecosystem of services that are deployable anywhere, from the edge of the network, to public clouds, private clouds and carrier networks.
Such offerings will smooth the path for telcos migrating to cloud-based infrastructure – but it may take time for the industry to become ‘fully native.’
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