Imagine yourself in the mountains with a friend on a back-packing adventure. While watching the sun rise up between the trees, you see a bear running straight at your tent. You shout to your friend that a bear is headed your way, but notice that your friend went to grab running shoes and even bent down to tie the laces. You freeze for a moment in disbelief and then shout back, “What in the world are you doing – we need to RUN!” To which your friend replies, “I don’t have to run faster than the bear, I only have to run faster than you.”
In many ways, this little story is a perfect analogy for the current state of disruption occurring within the telecom industry.
As many of us know, increases in data traffic coupled with preparation for the rollout of 5G networks has prompted many telecom operators to adopt Cloud technology. However, while cloud offers them the ability to virtualize mobile core networks, many are left frustrated with its results. With disruption coming from giant webscalers at the doorstep of Communications Service Providers (CSPs), the evolution to cloud-native is the race. Those that are able to do so correctly will emerge victorious in today’s market, similar to our friend with the running shoes.
Learning how to run properly
While Cloud technology isn’t new, it’s important to understand how it is useful for the telecom industry. For the most part, the notion of delivering computing as a service, where users pay for shared resources based on their usage, has been around for ages, and CSPs only started embracing this structure a couple of years ago.
Fast forward to today, the telco cloud, boosted by more complex network infrastructures and vast amounts of data and 5G, is starting to be adopted by telecoms operators across the world.
Plus, cloud offers CSPs major benefits when implemented, including:
- Capital expenditures (CAPEX) for cloud-based services result in higher utilization levels of assets, aggregation gains and simplified hardware inventories
- Operational expenditures (OPEX) result in a reduction of manual labor, improved resiliency and a better customer experience
- Automation and scale of cloud lead to increased operational efficiencies that allow capacity to grow as needed or be moved from one service to another, based on demand, utilizing a pay-as-you-grow model
- Heightened business agility that comes from the ability to enable new services, which in turn create new revenue streams
If you fall, get back up
We can’t forget that telco cloud within itself is a business, one that CSPs utilize to decouple growth from cost and deliver new services rapidly. Through their ownership of private, centralized cloud networks, CSPs are able to offer network services, infrastructure or business applications in the cloud as seen with the 4G core, IMS/VoLTE, end-of-life replacement, and Cloud RAN – not quite the open and vendor neutral environments that invite wide-spread innovation.
In its legacy offerings, telco cloud mostly ported big network elements into big virtualized network functions (VNF), but even these environments come with challenges (large size, resource-intensive, limited functionality, hard to manage, inability to scale or upgrade, etc.).
For example, many legacy operations are manual. As seen in the graphic below, today’s complex architectures require an ability to scale and adapt to changes within the network and its environment. It is simply not efficient enough to manually turn up a slice since another may be needed instantly. There is also the issue of increased operational activity that is supported by cloud that would be impossible to manage manually.
In addition, confusion is often generated around the lack of standard procedures for developing and benchmarking traditional VNF-based cloud architecture, which has led to a lack of architectural guidelines across vendors. Unfortunately, this results in manual configuration, updating and testing of VNFs – a huge roadblocks for service providers looking to realize NFV implementation success.
Similarly, VNF infrastructure brings further challenges, such as its high consumption of hardware resources, lack of multi-tenancy and even API task support, along with an inability of its resources to be reused or shared.
While great technology is a start, 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 and achieve their business objectives while providing network IT teams with tools that boost efficiency from day one.
Run fast and you’ll end up at cloud-native
It may be clear by now that I support the transition to cloud-native architecture, which will be the future of networks as many CSPs and operators have already concluded. Currently, service providers need more from cloud for 5G Cloud must be re-architected to cloud-native so that business agility and value can be experienced by those that matter most in any business environment – the customer. Operating in the cloud, for those that are still hesitant, supports the rapid onboarding of new apps and deployment and operation of new services, which is beneficial as the sheer size, scale and complexity of 5G networks brings many more devices and a very diverse mix of services. As rollouts of 5G only persist on a greater scale, there will be no way for legacy operations to keep up and provide the automation that is needed, especially in terms of slicing, as I’ve noted above. Beyond 5G, many network operators are also focused on cloud-native to support low-latency, high-resource environments like those found at the Edge, where localized reliability and traffic control can be managed instantly via cloud.
With the goal of being cloud-native, it is important that CSPs understand that this migration is a process and does not happen overnight – there are still many challenges to overcome and adapt to as that journey occurs. It is critical that they move forward with taking the first steps to outrun bears and ensure their competition are the ones caught instead.