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For telcos, going cloud-native can be liberating

SPONSORED -- "The growth of OpenRAN vendor-neutral hardware, adoption of Kubernetes, and the collaboration between..."

SPONSORED - Enterprises have long understood the arguments in favour of spreading data workloads across public, private and datacentre clouds even if making this work as a seamless whole remains complex. For a start, these clouds are discrete, which causes management headaches and seriously undermines doing cloud computing at scale.

Cloud computing wasn’t supposed to lead to silos. The solution is to embrace the idea of a cloud native architecture and swallow all that this implies in the form of containerisation, microservices, immutable infrastructure, and declarative provisioning and APIs through automation platforms such as Kubernetes.

Appealing from the outside, but for the telecoms sector moving to cloud native comes with unfamiliar challenges agrees Danilo Mišović, a software engineer for Montenegro-based Logate, which sells its open source OpenProvider platform to the mainly Balkans telecoms sector for 3GPP Authentication, authorisation, and accounting (AAA), and subscriber operations and business support (OSS/BSS).

See also: Cloud-native should be the tradeoff-free zone

“With digital transformation, telecoms companies are moving in the direction of virtualised network function (VNF) and cloud network function (CNF) and want their infrastructure to become fully software defined,” believes Mišović. “Cloud technologies are more appropriate for that purpose than legacy virtualisation approaches.”

The end goal of cloud migration in this sector is a desire to break free of vendor lock-in and higher costs. With cloud CNF, VNFs can be built using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware from multiple vendors. Telecom operators can also use existing hardware, he says. New services appear in double time.

The drag on this progress is the need to provide a service with bullet-proof levels of availability. There is no margin for error. “Becoming a fully software defined company is the goal of each telecoms operator. But that must be done in several phases. Telecoms is cautious when it comes to migrating certain systems to cloud platforms.”

Built on open source, the huge opportunity for Logate from the cloud trend was that its OpenProvider platform is infrastructure and cloud agnostic and can run on any virtualised infrastructure or COTS equipment.

Although currently used in fully VNF form by only two customers, OpenProvider allowed these customers to consolidate different AAA systems into one virtualised cloud environment while implementing edge systems nearer customers to improve latency.

Telcos are increasingly asking, what about cloud native?

“We are finishing the adaptation of our system for container technology, and it will soon work with Kubernetes,” confirms Mišović. “We had a dilemma whether to put the Apache Cassandra database cluster on Kubernetes or leave it as it is. With the database spread across multiple datacentres, the system must work in active-active load sharing mode which means the challenges are non-trivial.”

Logate started using Cassandra from DataStax in 2017, drawn by the promise of a NoSQL DBMS that could scale across multiple cloud datacentres in one logical infrastructure. This could also easily scale up or down without the need for service outage. When they benchmarked it, it emerged as the clear performance leader over other NoSQL clusters.

“With Cassandra we can now achieve tens of thousands of transactions per second (TPS) with a geo-redundant setup, which was just not possible with our previous application technology stack.”

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This creates one logical infrastructure spread across multiple datacentres, and the ability to offer geographical redundancy and load sharing, a central requirement for the company’s customer base. In the end, they plumped for k8ssandra, a cloud-native distribution of Apache Cassandra designed to smooth deployments on Kubernetes and simplify migrations.

Despite these advantages, telecoms operators are only slowly embracing cloud native. But getting in early was still the right for Logate, even if the market has yet to embrace the possibilities.

“Right now, our telecom clients are not yet close to cloud native implementations in terms of any business critical component,” even if this will come in time.

“There are more than enough reasons that each telecom should move their systems and services to the cloud and to offer cloud services to their customers.”

Kubernetes ready clusters

The company supporting Logate’s cloud native ambitions, DataStax, has used Cassandra to turn itself into a pre-eminent database-as-a-service vendor serving sectors such as telecoms. Because running Cassandra on Kubernetes has always been a challenge, in 2020 the company released the open source K8ssandra, for Kubernetes clusters.

It’s the perfect shoehorn for telecoms companies looking to go cloud native, argues Reed Peterson, DataStax’s senior vice president of telecom strategy. The next chapter for telecom operators will depend on how they balance their current infrastructure with investment in technologies to bring a cloud native future closer. Should they meld cloud native topologies to their current infrastructure or replace what they currently have?

They must work out how to do this at the huge scale and service reliability that defines the telecoms sector. “This is where the likes of Apache Cassandra and Apache Pulsar come in, as they are built to be fully distributed, redundant services that can run across multiple locations and platforms,” says Peterson.

The timing of cloud native projects such as K8ssandra was perfect given the arrival of a new generation of DX applications in the sector, including advanced IoT and OT, 5G and the roll out of the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) and Open Banking initiative -- DataStax's Reed Peterson

More generally, the adoption of cloud technology was a mixed bag across the telecoms sectors in an industry with huge investment already sunk into private datacentres. Nevertheless, cloud native remained the only way telecom companies could realistically invest in cloud because of the need to mix and match public clouds with on-premises infrastructure.

“Because telecom operators are inherently infrastructure-based, there will always be on premise needs. And because of cloud lock-in most responsible executive teams won’t put all their workload in one place. Ultimately, we see the ideal as a hybrid cloud, multi-cloud approach.”

Echoing Logate’s Mišović, vendors were still reluctant to end up on public clouds that might lock them in, hence the growing interest in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud as a means of dodging a dead end.

Edge computing was another driver. “This is where they are looking to partner with cloud providers, and how they can use things like Cassandra to manage data from core to near edge and to the far edge.”

The timing of cloud native projects such as K8ssandra was perfect given the arrival of a new generation of digital transformation applications in the sector, including advanced IoT and OT, 5G and to support the roll out of the Payment Services Directive 2 (PSD2) and Open Banking initiative. These have created huge demand for large-scale data processing, says Peterson.

“Cloud-native technologies can help build that service. Open source has a critical role to play in helping telecoms operators and providers to build those complete stacks, so that customers see the benefit.”

Peterson believes that a growing number of telecom operators feel comfortable about migrating to a cloud native topology which also means more room for open source technology. It was only through open components that a low cost of ownership and a reliable stream of innovation over the long term. For DataStax, this represents a huge growth opportunity.

“The growth of OpenRAN vendor-neutral hardware, the adoption of Kubernetes, and the collaboration taking place around 5G and 6G in future, demonstrates how telecom companies are keen to use cloud-native and open source technologies in future, and this will become more valuable to their strategic operations over time.”

See also: DataStax Astra just took Cassandra Serverless. That’s a game-changer