Categories: Telecom

Evolution of Containerization in the Telecom World

Network re-architecture has now become a hot topic in the field of telecom and the process of re-architecture is augmented by the gradual commercialization of diverse 5G service scenarios.

But why it’s happening now and how we have reached here?…

The telecom industry’s risk aversion and an under-competitive vendor market have prevented the telecom leaders from moving to state-of-the-art technologies, but now terms like containerization and cloud-native are gaining hype to help bring the TSPs to the cutting edge.

Traditional telecom Networks

If we talk about the legacy telecom systems, then they are very different from what the current IT professionals are seeing in the industry. These networks utilize the OSI 7-layer model (the same that is used in enterprise networks), but the system architecture is complex and explicit to telecom. Now, this isn’t something unexpected, as the applications
and physical architecture is so different. The standard network infrastructure that defines the architecture of 4G and 5G is the 3GPP (3 rd Generation Partnership Project; 3 rd because the organization was established to determine the architecture of 3G known as GSM).

So, 3GPP initially defined the network functions in order to aid network operators in buying products from a number of vendors and also have them communicate properly. We can say that telecom networks work more like system integrators. Initially, the number of such vendors was small and the huge costs involved in purchasing and architecting complex network devices demotivated new entrants in the industry. As the dependency on the telecom operators is very high, it’s necessary for them to deploy time-consuming and conservative changes in the business processes. The issue with the existing networks is that the characteristics and capacity of the network are static. It is even expensive to revamp temporary capacity for any event or holiday.

Need for 5G

It’s not practical to meet the requirements for 5G with the traditional network architectures. Earlier, the networks were designed in a hierarchy where the core was responsible for holding all the storage and computation resources. Efforts for the 5G network are crushed by the limitations attached to the storage and computing of the legacy systems.
The network requirements include high bandwidth and low latency while offering the ability to scale instantly to meet the continuously changing customer needs. In addition, integration with the organization’s Wi-Fi is required. The telco leaders have now understood the limitations that are linked to the existing systems. They are planning to do something about it for the past decade.
The idea is to move the network infrastructures to the cloud while performing the network functions via software using an NFV (Network Functions Virtualization). The reason is that the virtual network functions are just plain software running on traditional servers and to allocate any new virtual machine to run another event of VNF (Virtual Network Functions) in the cloud is cost-effective and quick in comparison to the hardware devices. With the cloud model, the organization can also get new capacity for network applications and communications. Telcos initially thought that by now network operators would be running majorly on NFV, but it didn’t happen as planned. This is due to the high cost of the transformation.

That’s why we have containers…

Containerization can be defined as a new programming model that supports cloud development. Containers come with a namespace and process list and create a special lightweight environment. Most of the containers are on Linux and it occupies much less CPU and memory overhead compared to the full virtual machine. They can even be instantiated and deallocated faster while having communication through well-defined mechanisms. Also, the segregation of containers from one another offers more benefits.
For example; various common programming environments and support libraries sometimes clash when they are running on the same OS, but this can be prevented in the case of containers. Although VMs can also do this, the overhead cost is very high. The best example is the capability to run different versions of Python on the same system.
Software designers find it motivating to work with containers, as it’s easier to create stateless and simple functions with them. These functions are actually microservices that can be defined as smaller units of code representing a completely self-contained piece of software. They are appropriate for cloud infrastructure and helps in creating a highly reliable, portable, and scalable application.

What else do the containers offer?

We can designate containers as cloud-native, as they are just a group of developments in the OS design and software.

  • When the systems will be employed with containers, then there will be a more agile network. The network will be based on a service-based architecture (SBA) comprising software services that market themselves. When a segment of the network is shifted from hardware to a cloud-native system, then the user gets to enjoy new features. Network slicing is one of them, it permits the TSPs to design virtual copies of the network with different features. Suppose the user needs the network to handle both autonomous driving and smart meters having different latency and bandwidth, then a different network can be built.
  • Containers provide a network with less cost and risk. A telco network that is based on software application and built with cloud-native technology provides various costand risk benefits over older infrastructures. The most obvious advantage is that the infrastructure can comfortably run network hardware and standard server; it even lowers both the maintenance and development costs.

So, when will the future be here…

User experience and agility of telecom networks are definitely going to improve with cloud-native infrastructures, but it is going to take some time. Though the development and implementation of container telecom networks have already started, there’s still a lot of work left to do. For now, the TSPs can focus on deploying islands of cloud-native 5G technology in their network offerings.

Pallavi Yadav

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