Patrick Kelly and Francis Haysom, Appledore Research Group

Cloud native applications and NFs, as an evolution of the virtualization of the telecommunication network, have the potential to substantially improve capital efficiency for CSPs in an industry that spends $300 Billion annually on network, compute, and storage. CSPs are actively virtualizing network functions in the mobile core network, customer premise, and data center to both lower capex but more importantly change the operating cost curve that exists today in their operating environment. The cloud lets CSPs take advantage of delivering services more rapidly to their customers at a far lower operational unit cost.

We believe that this journey towards virtualization and cloud-native which combines NFV, SDN, and cloud native applications will be more disruptive than the move from circuit switched to packet networking. The cloud native approach is application centric where applications consume resources, scale based on customer demand and are completely de-coupled from the infrastructure. Cloud native applications utilize a micro-service based architecture vs. a monolithic software stack which is pervasive in every CSP operational environment today. The challenge for CSPs is how to rapidly transform their processes and systems to achieve the inherent benefits offered by the cloud and virtualization. CSPs have systematically planned, designed, and deployed services on a network infrastructure assuring five 9’s of reliability. Unfortunately, it has been a network centric approach that dictates how and when services will be instantiated, provisioned, and managed. The tight coupling of the network to service deployments combined with a monolithic management stack inhibits CSPs from fully realizing cloud native virtualized network functions. Migration to a cloud-native paradigm will also require rethinking of the way applications and services evolve to “single-function” micro-services, and the speed at which they are versioned and deployed.

Market Adoption and phases towards cloud native vnfs

The rate of market adoption towards cloud native VNFs will follow a pragmatic process given both the culture of the CSP and tolerance for risk. Figure 2 shows the five phases of VNF deployments and indicators that confirm evidence of where we are today with limited deployments and the future direction. We have developed a vision for how we expect the market to mature indicating key areas of progress in the operational model. Each indicator will help to confirm that the market is maturing to the next phase and can be confirmed via deployments and availability of commercial solutions from suppliers in the market to advance the end state architecture.

We also acknowledge that the telecommunication market moves slowly and both culture and organizational realignment are necessary to achieve success. Technology alone cannot move the market forward. Bill Baker from Microsoft introduced the terms “pet” and “cattle” for application lifecycle management in IT operations. A pet is something that you cherish and as such you take great care in its wellbeing and long term survival. Contrary to a pet, cattle are abundant and no strong attachment exist. Cattle are easily traded or slaughtered.

Telecommunication services and the supporting network functions are pets. Services and networks are carefully planned, provisioned, curated (in the case of managed services) and assured. Service deployment can take years and upgrades require a tremendous amount of integration for billing, fulfillment, and assurance systems to maintain it. We must acknowledge that this mindset will not be easy to change.

Cloud native VNFs make the individual components of an end to end service more like cattle, whilst still providing a ‘cherished’ experience for the whole end to end service. It speeds up service deployment cycles, supports hyper scaling, and is inherently self-healing. End users don’t know or care if a service or VNF fails because it goes unnoticed in the cloud native network.

For more information on how we see operations changing to support cloud native architecture, see our white paper on the topic.

Image courtesy of Bowden