How DevOps Can Create Smarter, More Agile 5G Telecom Networks

I have written this article for DevOps.com.  I am re-publishing it here.

There is no doubt DevOps revolutionized software development with its introduction of lean and agile techniques. By applying continuous deployment and continuous integration methodologies into software development, enterprises can build, test and deploy applications and release new services more rapidly. In this article, we will see how the DevOps approach is being utilized in 5G telecom networks with the rise of software-defined systems.

Emergence of Software in Legacy Telecom Networks

In last few decades software has changed our lives in myriad ways—mostly for the better. Now, software is starting to disrupt the telecommunication industry with the eagerly anticipated 5thgeneration of telecom network, also known as 5G. It is expected to provide low latency and high bandwidth network connections to serve use cases including artificial intelligence, smart city, 3D video, industry automation and self-driving cars, and to provide end-to-end real-time experiences such as virtual reality and augmented reality. A variety of these use cases have different network requirements and dependencies, and 5G is expected to provide such flexibility along with agility.

Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) form the backbone of the upcoming 5G network, enabling service providers to deliver lucrative services to their customers and realize a competitive advantage. SDN makes the network programmable and centrally controlled, while NFV replaces dedicated network appliances with software packaged in virtual machines on top of high-performance servers. SDN and NFV enables:

  • Better control over overall network.
  • Reduction of manual network configuration processes.
  • Lower CAPEX.
  • Network resiliency.
  • Orchestrate network dynamically.
  • Faster time to market, i.e. faster introduction of new services and features to customers.

Application of SDN and NFV technologies in 5G telecom networks indicates the use of software in the legacy telecom network, wherein many network functions including firewall, content delivery network (CDN), network address translation (NAT), routers, deep packet inspection (DPI) and broadband remote access server (BRAS) can be virtualized and serve as virtual network functions (VNFs) in NFV architecture. This stands as the core feature of upcoming 5G networks, as most of hardware-dependent operations will be performed by software, providing higher performance with tons of benefits to end users.

 

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Cloud-Native Enables DevOps

Virtual network functions (VNFs) are the software representation of network function appliances in NFV environment and a core element in 5G networks. Services can be provided by chaining different VNFs developed by different vendors. There are complexities associated with having multivendor VNFs, as each VNF has its own performance and operational issues including manual integration in NFV infrastructure, utilization of NFV hardware resources, lack of interoperability and multitenancy. For a 5G network to deploy successfully, each VNF must be configured and managed in automated way.

As software becomes part of telecom network, the term “cloud native” becomes part of the vernacular for VNFs.

By harnessing a cloud-native approach—including containerization, microservices-based architecture and dynamic orchestration—VNFs with their own life cycle enable:

  • Decomposition of sub processes into microservices—resources required will be automatically scaled and communicated with other services using APIs.
  • Management and simplified orchestration of VNFs.
  • Deployment within containers and connected by APIs.
  • Orchestration by container scheduler—manages provision into service and lifecycle management.
  • Portability to different NFV environments.

More importantly, a cloud-native approach allows VNF vendors and service providers to impose DevOps (continuous deployment and integration) methods to automate process of building, validating and deploying VNFs into NFV environments.

A DevOps approach in 5G networks brings benefits for overall network operations, enabling deployment automation and management of service chains and 5G network slices. Complete automation is required, especially for 5G network operations, which may increase operational efficiency and decrease human error, saving OPEX and decreasing expensive downtime.

For 5G networks, requirement of DevOps methods in VNF can be for:

  • Automated onboarding and deployment of VNFs in NFV environment.
  • Automated performance testing and benchmarking for VNFs.
  • Enabling self-scaling of VNFs—automated resource provisioning for VNFs.
  • Rnabling self-healing after an error in VNFs residing in VMs or containers.
  • Real-time monitoring of VNF activities for analysis.

More ‘Intelligent’ Network

Cloud-native capabilities and a DevOps approach opens the possibility of incorporating artificial intelligence in 5G telecom network operations analysis and real-time monitoring. Cisco Systems has already introduced its solution based on machine learning, which it calls Intent Based Networking. We can imagine a network operation having “zero touch” feature by just providing an intent to complete network for any configuration or specific network-based instruction. The collected analysis data can be used in the management and organization of NFV for corrections of network errors, adjustments in VNF and NFV elements configuration and self-healing/scaling of network functions.

Summary

Development of 5G network is still in process. By taking into account a revolution in SDN, NFV, cloud native and DevOps, it is expected that we will have 5G networks by some of leading players Verizon, AT&T, Telefonica and Vodafone reasonably soon.

 

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