Cloud native has lots of benefits, some drawbacks: Special Report

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Verizon uses cloud-native technology in its Verizon Cloud Platform. (Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay)

AvidThink Principal Analyst Roy Chua will kick off the FierceTelecom Summer Blitz virtual event next week with a presentation on the topic of cloud native.

It’s an important topic because practically every telco in the world is in the process of introducing cloud-native technologies in its network.

Some greenfield operators such as Rakuten and Dish are building their networks with cloud-native technology from the onset.

Dish recently announced that it will use Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud to host its core and radio access network (RAN) for 5G. Chua said, “Dish is actually betting their whole farm on AWS.”

RELATED: Dish makes a splash, picks AWS to host 5G RAN and core — Industry Voices: Chua

One thing that the panelists will discuss next week is the definition of cloud native. Chua said it is rather ambiguously defined. “At the highest level it’s building your applications to use the cloud delivery model and provide services in the cloud. Inside that, the technologies that are usually part of it are containers, service meshes, microservices, immutable infrastructure, the use of automation and the use of continuous integration and continuous delivery.”

Cloud native offers the ability to develop apps faster and to scale them to much larger numbers than is possible with traditional applications. Cloud-native applications also lower operational costs and require less effort to manage.

However, cloud native has some of its own challenges.

It’s a collection of services that are spun up as needed, and they have to coordinate and talk amongst each other. Chua said trouble-shooting can be tricky because microservices are ephemeral. If there’s a problem, the microservices may go away before the problem is fixed. 

And in a cloud-native architecture, everything is disaggregated. “Disaggregation is great, but you have to put things back together,” he said. “That’s where Kubernetes comes in. It gives you a relatively lean way of orchestrating and managing your cloud-native, containerized services.”

Verizon is doing cloud native

Miguel Carames, director of network and technology planning at Verizon, will be speaking on next week’s FierceTelecom panel. Of cloud native, he said, “It’s all about decoupling the app from the infrastructure and getting more common services provided by the infrastructure itself.”

He said cloud native is much more efficient because it eliminates a lot of duplication. Traditionally, each application had a lot of administrative functions, and those were replicated across all the applications. “Cloud native is: find these common functions and make sure this is provided by the platform,” said Carames. “The containers that are handling can access that information as needed, but they can go to these microservices where the state is stored as opposed to having to replicate. This is all built in our telco cloud.”

Verizon’s telco cloud is known as the Verizon Cloud Platform (VCP). It has different flavors with different capabilities depending on where it is deployed in the network, whether core, edge or RAN.

RELATED: Verizon eyes cloud-native container-based tech for network edge

“When we started this virtualization journey, containers were not mature enough to trust for telco workloads,” said Carames. Instead, Verizon built its VCP using OpenStack software. But its new 5G standalone core is being built with cloud-native software. “Things that are already in OpenStack we will leverage them because we already made the investment, we’ll have that in the network,” he said. “But as we get to end-of-life considerations on hardware, we will be moving legacy to cloud native as well. Everything that is new will be deployed in cloud native.”

Of the challenges to moving to cloud native, Carames cited people and culture. “We need to train all the teams, even the planning role. You need operations and planning to be a lot more aware and understand how apps interact.”

He said the other challenge relates to working with Verizon’s vendors. “In many ways our vendors provide something, but we provide the platform, and we have to share our specs so they can come and integrate. The network vendors need to know the architecture.”

Speaking of vendors, Ericsson VP of Core, IT & Cloud Technology Ravi Vaidyanathan will also be participating on the Fierce panel next week. His group at Ericsson is helping operators on their cloud-native journey. “We have our cloud infrastructure offering — a telco-grade, container-as-a-service platform based on open source Kubernetes,” said Vaidyanathan. “We’re working on the bare metal versions of cloud native.”

He said when it comes to applications, Ericsson has used 5G as a key transition technology to build a 5G portfolio from the ground up as cloud native.

Similar to Carames, he said one of the big benefits of a cloud-native architecture is that common features don’t have to be replicated myriad times. “I can focus on my network functions,” said Vaidyanathan. “I don’t need to focus on something like logging.”

Another benefit of cloud native is streamlined operations and the rapid pace of introducing new features. “Amazon launches dozens of services every day,” said Vaidyanathan. “Telcos are aspirational at looking to match that pace.”

While Ericsson has been helping telcos on their cloud-native journey, the vendor decided to also adopt cloud-native processes for it own internal software development.