• Lopez challenges Kubernetes to prove itself in telco environment.
  • Hybrid VM and cloud-native model the likely norm for operators already invested in NFV.

Telefónica lays down gauntlet to cloud-native suppliers

Telefónica lays down gauntlet to cloud-native suppliers

Source: Waldemar Brandt / Unsplash

Diego Lopez, Senior Technology Expert at Telefónica, suggested that Kubernetes — widely seen as the de facto platform for containerisation management and workload orchestration — still had a lot to prove.

Containerisation and microservices are firm directions of travel for Telefónica, as demonstrated by its UNICA programme (Telefónicawatch, passim), but Lopez maintained that cloud-native tech was by no means ready for prime time in the virtualisation of networks.

Lopez likened Kubernetes to OpenStack. In much the same way as OpenStack fell short on meeting telco requirements for deployment of virtual network functions (VNF), he asserted that Kubernetes was not yet ready to virtualise all network functions. “The challenges [facing Kubernetes] lie more in the data plane than the control plane”, he explained.

Lopez was speaking on an online panel session, How to implement cloud-native network transformation, as part of the DSP Leaders World Forum hosted by TelecomTV. He seemed confident that Kubernetes will evolve, but was non‑committal as to when (or if) the platform will become adequate for telco needs.

Co‑panellist Rabi Abdel, Network Cloud Principal Architect & Senior Manager at Vodafone, appeared more optimistic that Kubernetes will eventually cut the telco mustard. “[Kubernetes] is eager to meet telco requirements”, he declared.

To illustrate the point, Abdel referenced the platform’s heavy involvement in the Cloud Native Network Function (CNF) Telecom User Group and Common NFVi Task Force (CNTT) — a Linux Foundation networking project that involves vendors and more than 50 operators, including Telefónica. The group is attempting to create reference architecture for the containerisation platform.

No more silos, please

Abdel applauded industry collaboration work on defining challenges and ‘gaps’ in cloud‑native software approaches within telco environments, but seemed fearful that mistakes made in the past might be repeated. “Just as interworking was a problem in the NFV [network functions virtualisation] and VM [virtual machine] world, so it’s a challenge in the container world”, said Abdel.

Abdel stressed how important it was that the industry did not get sucked into silos and disjointed ways of working if the goal of greater software cost efficiencies and service agility were to be achieved. Lack of NFV infrastructure standards is something that has also long troubled Telefónica (Telefónicawatch, #134).

He warmed to his interworking theme by throwing the spotlight on interfaces with software-defined network controllers, and the challenge of how to manage infrastructure in a consistent and standard way. Security levels also needed improving, added Abdel, in terms of isolating workloads.

“When the workload is trying to consume network resources, there’s no standard yet as to how that’s consumed. Containerisation has been working quite nicely in IT workloads, but we need to apply that to network virtualisation.

— Abdel.

Where’s Telefónica in TIP’s Open Core Network project group?

As part of industry efforts to identify infrastructure ‘gaps’, Abdel welcomed contributions made by the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), particularly the OpenRAN project group and the relatively new OpenCore Network initiative. Vodafone actively participates in both initiatives, but Telefónica is curiously absent from OpenCore Network (while an ardent supporter of OpenRAN). The OpenCore Network initiative has pledged to develop an “open, cloud‑native, and converged core that is a collection of microservices implementing various core network functions”, and is aiming to be ready for lab trials of a 5G use‑case by December 2020 (Telefónicawatch, #142).

Hybrid thinking

For operators already heavily committed to NFV infrastructure, it would clearly be ideal if investment in containers and microservices could leverage capital outlays on VM‑enabled VNFs.

Abdel seemed unsure on how far this might be possible. He accepted that a hybrid model will be needed for some time, but reckoned industry was doing a good job — on container run‑times, for example, which support VMs — in supporting a ‘dual‑stack’ approach.

NFV is not moving away anytime soon. For a successful transformation [to cloud‑native], it’s extremely important to make sure our architectures, implementations, and internal processes can support both, but with a clear path to shifting workloads from VNFs into cloud‑native. To do that, more work is needed with [our] vendors and partners.

— Abdel.

If the hybrid approach is to be around for some time, questions will inevitably arise about organisational structures and people skillsets.

Lopez conceded that getting these two things right might prove tricky, but he advised telco management not to assume that workers are lacking the necessary software skills. Management, he argued, too often pushed back on using DevOps because of a classical mindset trained on requests for proposals, requests for quotes, and certification. “The new skills are already there, but just need to be encouraged”, he maintained.