Telcos turn to cloud vendors for ‘last-mile’ 5G networks solutions

5G networks are all set to bring massive changes, not just to the world of cloud computing and communications, but to the world as we know it. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), communication service providers (CSMs) need to provide a peak data speed of 20Gbps to be classified as 5G. That’s over 20 times faster than the current 4G LTE peak data speeds. This means the existing networks will need to undergo considerable transformations to meet these new last-mile requirements, and a lot of them are looking to the cloud for help.

5G networks

Cloudification

Cloudification is the process of bolstering existing networks with cloud technology to prepare for the decreased latency, increased speed, and infinitely larger capacity of 5G networks. This includes software-defined networking (SDN), virtualized Radio Access Networks (vRAN), cloud-based virtualized networking, network function virtualization (NFV), and self-managed networks with cognitive automation. While some people think 5G will disrupt the cloud, 5G devices only process data locally and will have to depend on the cloud to process heavier applications involving ML/AI or Big Data.

This is, however, a two-way street, and while 5G networks need support from the cloud to handle expanding volumes of data and increasing demand for lower latency, the cloud vendors need to up their game considerably to be in a position to provide this help. This is why we’re seeing a number of cloud vendors accelerating their 5G offerings to include mobile cloud computing (MCC) and multi-access edge computing (MEC) platforms in a bid to prepare for the incoming wave of new resource-hungry 5G applications.

5G networks
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VMware 5G telco cloud platform

First on our list of cloud vendors helping CSPs solve the 5G networks problem is VMware. Shortly after the September 2020 acquisition of the technology and team behind Mode.net (who were already working on integrating legacy telco networks with multicloud architecture), VMware announced the 5G Telco Cloud Platform. Made up of two main components, Telco Cloud Infrastructure and Telco Cloud Automation, this platform looks to bring the agility and automation of the cloud to the world of telecommunication.

VMware Telco Cloud Infrastructure is an evolution of the vCloud NFV suite that includes vSphere, NSX distributed firewalls, VMware vRealize Suite multicloud management solution, vSAN, VMware Cloud Director, and VMware Integrated OpenStack, among others products.

Telco Cloud Automation was previously launched under the name Project Maestro and is a next-generation orchestrator with multi-domain and automation capabilities. This means while it simplifies automation across any network and any cloud, it also extracts cloud complexities and exposes them through standard telco interfaces.

VMware is also working on a number of vRAN projects including an integrated software platform for vRAN in collaboration with Intel, an open RAN offering in collaboration with DISH, and an intelligent vRAN project with Deutsche Telekom. There’s even a MEC solution that’s being developed in collaboration with SK Telecom and Dell Technologies called OneBox MEC, which is a private 5G edge system that runs workloads on VMware Telco Cloud Platform. While the OneBox processes data a lot closer to the user, it can also use the Dell EMC PowerEdge XE2420 server if more resources are needed.

Weave Kubernetes platform

Next on our list is Weaveworks, which is bringing Kubernetes, containers, and version control to the telco cloud with their flagship offering Weave Kubernetes Platform (WKP). While telcos are expecting to have to orchestrate on a large scale with 5G, DevOps teams have been using version control (such as Git) to deploy Kubernetes and orchestrate at scale for a while now. WKP is a GitOps platform that enables enterprises that aren’t familiar with Kubernetes to safely use Kubernetes across hybrid environments, making it perfect for the telco industry.

GitOps is all about security, reproducibility, and, most importantly, auditability, all of which are essential for telecom operators who need to provide a consistent level of service across highly-distributed hybrid environments. WKP makes this possible by enabling users without much experience with deploying in Kubernetes with GitOps, to securely deliver containerized 5G deployments across hybrid, multi-cloud, and edge environments. Additionally, WKP also includes a number of enterprise GitOps features like fleet management, team workspaces, instant dashboard, and more.

In January, Weaveworks announced it had raised $36 million in its Series C round of funding backed by a number of top telecom companies, including Orange Ventures, Deutsche Telekom, and Ericsson, as well as public cloud providers like AWS. Remi Prunier, investment principal at Orange Ventures, was quoted as saying that “the need for a reliable, secure and standard-based model is more important than ever.” He then goes on to explain how GitOps is fulfilling that need by being the foundation that WKP is built on. WKP is also built on open source and designed to work with Amazon EKS, further simplifying adoption.

IBM Cloud for Telecommunications

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Next on our list is IBM, which has enlisted an additional 35 other partners to build an ecosystem of products and services around IBM Cloud for Telecommunication in an attempt to help telcos unlock the true value of cloud and edge computing. These partners include Cisco, Dell Technologies, HPE, Intel, Juniper Networks, Lenovo, Linux Foundation, Nokia, Palo Alto Networks, Red Hat, and Samsung, among others. IBM Cloud for Telecommunication is based on IBM Cloud Satellite, which, while still in beta, allows users to deploy IBM Cloud service across networks, environments, clouds, edge locations, and on-premises facilities.

IBM Cloud Satellite uses RedHat OpenShift and is essentially a distributed cloud where cloud services are geographically distributed or spread out to the network edge in order to provide better and more consistent performance and security. Users can create OpenShift clusters that have a core set of Kubernetes, data, AI, and security services on IBM Cloud Satellite locations that are centrally managed as a service. IBM Cloud for Telecommunications also integrates a number of other IBM products and services including IBM Telco Network Cloud Manager and IBM Edge Application Manager.

Telco Network Cloud Manager is made up of three components: Assurance, Orchestration, and Performance. While Assurance provides capabilities like seamless-management of services in production, topology view, and analytics, Orchestration provides automation capabilities, and Performance enables performance management. IBM Edge Application Manager is a full-lifecycle edge environment and intelligent platform that, in addition to providing autonomous management, also allows users to create, deploy, scale, and manage applications at the edge. IBM is also offering all of its ecosystem partners access to its Cloud Engagement Fund, which is part of a $1 billion investment to help with funding and technology.

The 5G cloud will power 5G networks

As applications grow and evolve, the future isn’t going to be exclusively edge computing or cloud computing or IoT but rather a hybrid form of distributed computing that will enable complex workloads to be run agnostically across clouds, platforms, devices, and networks. As CSPs face more challenges with expanding volumes of data, we can expect a lot more alliances to be made between the telco and public cloud vendors. Virtualization and cloudification is the only way that CSPs are going to be able to meet the challenge of 5G as it allows for unprecedented levels of agility, automation, and scalability. This also allows CSPs to adopt DevOps methodologies that have served the enterprise well when dealing with orchestration at scale.

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