Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Wednesday, December 2, 2020
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Cloud Effort Looks to ‘Turbocharge’ Telecom Networks 

The convergence of cloud computing and high-bandwidth telecommunication networks has spawned an industry group to begin forging best practices for using cloud-native frameworks in telecom while defining cloud-native network functions.

The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) announced the network functions conformance initiative during this week’s KubeCon event. The new CNCF working group will focus on cloud-based network functions practices and conformance as well as developing a framework for deploying cloud-native technologies like Kubernetes in emerging telecom networks.

Those tightly-coupled networks are currently unable to use cloud native tools for provisioning or upgrading applications.

Survey results released this week by CNCF reveal that 88 percent of telecom carriers are using Kubernetes cluster orchestration, with more than 50 percent in production. Production workloads range from initial deployments to large-scale operations.

The foundation noted that leading wireless and network equipment makers are already embracing Kubernetes and other cloud-native technologies. Early adopters include Comcast, Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia, T-Mobile and Vodafone.

Bill Mulligan, CNCF’s marketing manager, said telecommunications carriers have been turning to cloud-native network functions to optimize Kubernetes performance. “Conformance will help ensure that developers and operators can follow cloud native best practices when building or modernizing network functions, [which] will be critical for ensuring predictability and interoperability,” Mulligan added.

The working group’s goal is to forge a consensus among telecom equipment vendors, service providers and companies operating internal telecommunication infrastructure on industry-wide adoption of best practices.

Among those best practices is ensuring network interoperability with cloud-native technologies. Software conformance will also get attention to ensure that applications or network function implementations are interoperable with Kubernetes and other cloud native platforms.

The networking effort also addresses the transformation of telecommunication infrastructure and applications characterized by tightly-composed physical or virtual units that are designed to control software stacks, a CNCF summary notes. The other design consideration is redundancy and resiliency to maximize uptime.

The requirements led to new applications that were complicated, slow and could not be provisioned or updated using current DevOps tools.

“The great promise of cloud native for telecommunications is to turbocharge the development and improvement of telecommunications applications by finally allowing those critical services to run on largely commodity physical infrastructure, and to finally decouple them from purpose-built boxes,” the foundation said.

The conformance effort also targets private wireless networks that are expected to proliferate once 5G wireless technology and broadband spectrum become widely available for industrial internet of things and other enterprise applications.

Kubernetes pioneers such as IBM’s Red Hat unit have forged partnerships with telecom carriers to move cloud-native capabilities to the network edge. IBM and AT&T recently expanded their partnership built around Red Hat’s OpenShift platform.

Intel Corp. announced a 5G partnership earlier this month with the DISH Network to develop a virtualized open radio access network based on the chip maker’s hardware and software reference architecture.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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