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A New Asset for Cloud-Native Virtualization

By April 26, 2018Article

The industry is increasingly aware of the challenges with virtual network functions (VNF) and why making cloud-native VNFs are important for realizing Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) success for service providers and enterprises.

In this article, let’s discuss how requirements of cloud-native VNFs for telecom are different than IT applications and how VNF deployment using microservices and containers can help realizing cloud-native NFV implementation success.

The best application for NFV is how it will be integrated, architected and further matured to strengthen 5G implementation for telecom service providers. Based on current pitfalls related to VNF deployment and orchestration, making cloud-native VNF is the only solution in front of service providers today.

But, telecom applications requirements of VNFs are different than any cloud-native IT application. Telecom VNF applications are built for data plane/packet processing functions along with control, signaling and media processing. An error or harm to VNF may break down the network and will impact the number of subscribers. Due to such critical processing requirement, VNFs in telecom should be resilient, offer ultra-high performance, low latency, scalability and capacity. Telecom VNFs need to be a real-time application having latency sensitivity to fulfill network data, control and signaling processing requirements.

Decomposition of cloud-native VNFs into microservices

VNFs are network-functions embedded software taken out of network peripherals and hosted on a virtual machine as an application which formed the term, Virtual network function. Any kind of update to VNFs raises a time-consuming manual effort which hammers down the productivity of NFV infrastructure operations overall. 

To get ready for cloud-native functionality, a bundled VNF software needs to be microservices-based wherein monolithic VNFs are decomposed into different smaller sets of collaborative services having diverse but related functionalities, maintaining their own states, having different infrastructure resources consumption requirements, should be communicated, automatically scaled and orchestrated using well-defined APIs.

There are many benefits of microservice-based VNFs decomposition:

  • Decomposed VNF sub-services are deployed on hardware, which is best suited to efficiently run and managed. It can scale as needed.
  • Any error or glitch in microservice causes failure to only that specific function which allows easy troubleshooting and enables high availability.
  • Decomposition allows reusability of service within VNF lifecycle in NFV environment. It also allows some services to get rollout quickly.
  • Whole VNF becomes lightweight as functions like load balancing and Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) are stripped out from core application.

As VNFs get divided in microservices service provider may face operation complexity as the number grows. To manage all microservices well in the production environment, high-level automation needs to be implemented with NFV MANO layer and cloud orchestrator.

Evaluating deployment of VNF using virtual machines and containers

Containers are a form of virtualization at the operating system level. It encapsulates application dependencies, required libraries, and configuration in a package which is isolated from other containers in the same operating system. Containers allow the application to run in an independent way and can be easily portable. As a move towards cloud native, VNF microservices can be deployed in containers which enable the continuous delivery/deployment of large, complex applications. But this approach is still in the early stage for cloud-native NFV.

Benefits of containers for cloud-native NFV

Having a container in place to host microservices can allow active schedule and management to optimize resource utilization. The container orchestration engine enables provisioning of hosts resources to containers, assigning containers to hosts, instantiating and rescheduling containers. With containers service provider can realize the successful implementation of DevOps methodologies, allowing ease in automation tasks like scaling, upgrading, healing and become resilient.

The major benefit of containerized microservices is the ability to orchestrate the containers so that separate lifecycle management processes can be applied to each service. This allows for each service to be versioned and upgraded singularly as opposed to upgrading the entire VNF in a virtual machine. While upgrading a whole application or VNF, container scheduler determines which individual services have changed and deploys only those specific services.

Containers enable cloud-native ability into NFV infrastructure with added performance, portability and agility benefits for telecom specific application deployment and orchestration. To have fully featured cloud-native 5G networks, it is imperative for service providers to have containers to deploy more than a virtual machine.

Containers play a vital role on the path to achieve a complete 5G network built with highly-automated, cloud-native NFV. Successful deployment of 5G will depend on how service providers build a strategy around usage of containers in NFV infrastructure.

Sagar Nangare is Digital Strategist at Calsoft Inc. Read Sagar’s full evaluation of the opportunities and challenges of container-based VNF in this original post on his blog.

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