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Looking into the Crystal Ball: Cloud-Native Solutions are the Future for CSP's

By Alexa Tahan, Campaign and Content Strategist, Cybersecurity at Nokia

Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are facing significant pressure, particularly around margins, as 5G continues to expand in the telecom industry. And to relieve these margin pressures and demands, CSPs are finding ways to create new revenue streams as well as reduce costs.

One potential solution is cloud-native solutions, which provide the lower TCO, flexibility, efficiency, scalability and agility needed to fully capitalize on 5G and remain competitive. Currently, many CSPs still leverage legacy technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G and physical hardware. As a result, a cloud-native transformation solution will be far from a straight-forward journey and many might not migrate everything to cloud native right away.

The Advantages of a Cloud-Native Solution

Many of CSPs' legacy operations are manual and simply can't keep up with the cloud and the 5G era's hundredfold increase in operational activities. The 5G era is fast and will bring on a vast number of new devices and diverse services. It can no longer rely on a one- to two-year development cycle like previous traditional network services, and simultaneously, will demand more from the cloud. CSPs rely on quick turnarounds to provide customers with 5G services and applications to grow revenue and help recoup the costs of transformations.

The cloud then needs to be rearchitected into a cloud-native infrastructure so that CSPs can achieve faster-than-ever agility and speed in onboarding new applications. Further, such a cloud-native environment is designed to greatly shorten the development cycle. With it, CSPs can create new use cases, in a matter of hours or even minutes rather than days. This is made possible by the ability to quickly stitch together service and network components, including automated testing and validation. Ultimately, this enables CSPs to create new revenue streams and achieve faster time-to-market - a critical component amid increasing market competitiveness.

Beyond agility and speed, a cloud-native architecture offers CAPEX benefits such as higher utilization of assets and the improved simplification of hardware inventories. On the operational efficiency front, a cloud-native solution offers higher degrees of automation and elasticity, capacity growth, automated software upgrades, pay-as-you-grow capabilities, as well as OPEX improvements via automation, including greater customer experience and enhanced resiliency.

Building Blocks for A Cloud-Native Architecture

It can be difficult to visualize what a cloud-native architecture looks like and what it needs to consist of to operate successfully. But in its simplest terms, a cloud-native architecture consists of two main features: microservices and containers.

The main component of cloud-native solutions is microservices, which enable rapid, frequent reliability for complex applications. Developers can individually update microservices rather than waiting for an entire system to be updated - accelerating application development, integration and the ability to run smoother.

Once monolithic applications are broken down into microservices, the cloud-native environment packages them in self-sufficient "containers" - which can include everything an application needs to run efficiently. This approach provides opportunities for big gains in flexibility, scalability and efficiency, along with a lower TCO.

Components within containers can remain reliable and be adjusted from development to testing to production without having their functionality be affected. Microservices using different operating systems will work together, which provides developers with flexibility instead of the need to worry about interoperability.

Preparing to Transition from Cloud to Cloud-Native

There are quite a few factors to consider before achieving a cloud-native transformation. It is often asked if CSPs should start with the traditional model or go straight to cloud-native.

With the traditional model, CSPs use proprietary, third-party software on proprietary, third-party hardware. Many providers have recognized the limitations of this approach and have disaggregated software from hardware with virtual network functions (VNFs).

This often involves simply transposing legacy software onto a single VNF without optimizing for multi-purpose applications, which limits scalability. Overall, VNFs are a critical step but don't allow for CSPs to truly take advantage of 5G opportunities the way that cloud-native does.

Alternatively, CSPs also ask if a private, public or hybrid cloud would work best; and with a new private cloud, how can budgets cover the potential higher costs? These are difficult questions to answer, and CSPs often do not have the required expertise and perspective to answer accurately and precisely, which is why it is important to select the right cloud-native partner.

A partner can help plan and execute a cloud-native transformation strategy - allowing the CSP to remain focused on other strategic priorities. Additionally, partners can give CSPs deeper insights and best practices to strategically address challenges or questions.

Knowing how the solutions work, why they work and what they can do, is important. And by working alongside a partner, CSPs can have more confidence in deploying a cloud-native architecture that is ready for the 5G era.

Implementing a Cloud-Native Architecture

Like any migration to a new architecture, it is a journey, with taking the first steps being the most challenging part. No two CSPs' cloud-native migration journeys are the same and many will be at different phases, which can bring about challenges as parts of their network may also be in different stages of the migration journey. As a result, CSPs may seek a cohesive cloud-native solution that embraces the following steps, for the smoothest possible transition.

The first step is to embrace virtualization, which enables hardware consolidation. It does so by enabling hardware consolidation by running applications on standard hardware. This is considered the first step to cloudification - but VNFs are still siloed, so the cloud benefits received are still minimal due to the lack of merging of hardware resources across different apps.

In step two, CSPs will evolve toward automation and scale - further cloudifying the virtualized software. By leveraging OpenStack technology, CSPs can automate application deployments into data centers that run generic hardware. With automation implemented, CSPs can now run several applications using the same tools, though the apps may still have specific requirements for underlying cloud stacks and/or the hardware.

The final step is the evolution of the application architecture to cloud-native apps. For this, CSPs will decompose the NF into microservices so apps can run independently of infrastructure. This will also provide programmability capabilities - that is, delivering well-documented APIs inside and outside of applications - which is critical to make possible DevOps principles in the telco cloud.

While this may seem like a daunting task, the good thing is there are many trusted partners today that can guide each CSP through their cloud-native migration journey. We're now at the peak of the cloud era - and the time is now for CSPs to begin their executing their cloud-native transformation strategy with the right partner, so they can continue focusing on other strategic priorities and maintain/improve market competitiveness.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alexa-Tahan 

Alexa leads the campaign and content strategy for Nokia cybersecurity services and solutions. She has extensive B2B and B2C content marketing experience and is passionate about enhancing the buyer journey.

Alexa resides in the United States and enjoys spending time outdoors, reading, traveling, and working on new creative projects. 

Published Tuesday, November 22, 2022 7:35 AM by David Marshall
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