The Cloud Native Computing Foundation has released a study outlining what’s coming down the pipeline for Telecoms working in the cloud. The micro-study covers some of the most important issues that telecoms face as they build cloud-native network functions and what’s standing in the way of full adoption.
Telecoms are one of the key industries taking advantage of what the cloud can offer. Telecoms are large, distributed systems, and cloud processing, storage, and delivery provide a foundation for digital transformation and proactive responses not available with traditional systems. According to the survey, three-quarters of telecoms are converting physical network functions (PNF) or virtual network functions (VNF) to Cloud-native Network Functions (CNF). They’re utilizing microservices through containers or Kubernetes.
The majority plan or are currently converting the majority of their PNF/VNF structures, and this group includes members converting all. The next biggest group still plans to convert at least half. This shows significant commitment to what cloud services can bring to the industry and is already causing shakeups within telecom.
Cloud offers enticing benefits over traditional systems, including:
- Allowing teams to roll out new features quickly and take full advantage of DevOps processes for continuous innovation.
- Delivering more flexibility in deployment, management, configuration, and operations.
- Eliminating vendor lock-in and tool dependency while increasing scalability
All of which have made the option very attractive for the telecom industry. However, it’s not without obstacles.
The challenges of Kubernetes in the era of cloud
Kubernetes is integral here, and for a good reason. The top three benefits of using containers and Kubernetes, according to survey respondents, are:
- Resilience of applications and services
- Ease of integration with CI/CD pipelines
Interoperability is still a significant challenge, however. Companies like these are dealing with legacy systems, large numbers of tools, and multiple data formats. Cloud operations must connect with everything in the ecosystem for companies to leverage the full power of their data.
Customers appear to still have trouble with custom Container Network Interface plugins and Network Address Translation. In addition, companies have significant difficulty integrating the APIs of different vendors, preventing the flow of data and efficient operations. Unless companies can overcome this challenge, they won’t see the full power of what the cloud can do.
Consistency is a key consideration and one that no one has right just yet
Using Kubernetes from different suppliers has companies worried that performance won’t remain consistent. The ability of applications to perform consistently and Kubernete’s’ ability to run consistently across the entire infrastructure is a significant concern for many telecoms making the switch.
Respondents view certification for CNFs favorably as this would increase consistency in both performance and operations. Interoperability would be a key benefit because companies will need to reduce complexity in order to make the switch.
Certification would also ensure that developers and operators are following current industry best practices. Predictable operations that take advantage of the latest breakthroughs would give telecoms more flexibility and more trust that their architectures can support both current and future operations.
Interestingly observability and driving innovation make up the fewest responses, which could mean a number of things. First, innovation comes after getting the architecture to work as it should. Once companies have a greater understanding of the tech itself and how to deploy it post-digital transformation, innovation could be a higher point on the list. Second, observability is still largely misunderstood because not all agree on precisely what observability should be.
The cloud native network functions micro-survey could reveal bigger truths
The survey consisted of just 77 respondents, so conclusions are still mere hints at the larger market. However, it does outline some critical takeaways that everyone should pay attention to:
- Without consistency, the cloud market may not grow as fast, particularly in the realm of telecoms.
- Companies believe that adopting cloud operations through Kubernetes containers is a viable pathway for managing complexity, but there are still roadblocks.
- Compatibility and integration challenges will form the bulk of challenges but could provide opportunities for vendors to improve offerings as the market matures.
The most common roles for these respondents are software architects and SRE/DevOps engineers. This could also account for less emphasis on business innovation and more on the fluidity and scalability of the architecture itself. Both roles have a focus on the integrity of the infrastructure.
Responses were primarily from Europe, North America, and Asia.
Bringing cloud to the telecom world
This survey showcases some of the challenges inherent in shifting operations to the cloud. The benefits and frustrations apparent in telecom will most likely reflect in other industries. CNCF is currently working to offer certifications so that customers know which vendors are following best practices. Their certifications include areas in interoperability, predictability, and confirmability. Vendors apply for certification and submit reports for review.
We know from even the small response pool that the cloud is a critical component of operating in the post-pandemic telecom world. We know that cloud offers benefits that companies believe in whether they fully understand the technology and how to overcome obstacles. We’ll be waiting to see how certifications and adoption through Kubernetes containers play out.
Elizabeth Wallace is a Nashville-based freelance writer with a soft spot for data science and AI and a background in linguistics. She spent 13 years teaching language in higher ed and now helps startups and other organizations explain – clearly – what it is they do.