Spotlight on Tech

Are cloud-native networks the future of telecom?

Vivek Chadha
SVP of Global Telecom Sales, Unified Cloud
Rakuten Symphony
January 27, 2023
minute read

According to Gartner, 95% of new digital workloads will be deployed on cloud-native platforms by 2025*. There is a clear indication that for digital experiences, the world is going cloud-native. Though, even amid all of the infrastructure breakthroughs enabled by the cloud, there is still a great deal of confusion between cloud, cloud-native, cloud-enabled technologies and more. The term "cloud-native" is often misinterpreted.

In its most basic form, the cloud is someone else's computing infrastructure – compute power, storage, a collection of servers, databases and software that you rent on demand to run your workload. It is frequently bundled with additional managed services at the infrastructure, application stack or higher service level. Public cloud services provided by hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and others are popular examples. The cloud's early stages were purely lift-and-shift models, with businesses migrating workloads from on-premises or datacenter servers to the cloud, with the main drivers being reduced time-to-market for infrastructure availability, scalability, elasticity and no upfront cost.

That's not what cloud-native is about.

Cloud-native is an architecture paradigm enabled by an actual stack of technologies that have matured significantly over the years. These technologies enable businesses to design and build applications underpinned by cloud-native, DevOps and agile principles – the cornerstones of this paradigm. The basis of cloud-native is rooted in the learnings acquired by cloud providers over the last decade and a half.

On the business side, cloud-native extends extensive capabilities to telcos and enterprises on public cloud, on-premises using its bare-metal infrastructure, in a data center or a hybrid set-up. It combines advanced technologies, like containers or microservices to bring traits like elasticity, flexible pricing, accelerated time to market, resiliency, fluidity, manageability and integrity into modern-day architectural landscapes.

Day zero operations tend to be the easiest part of any deployment. Can cloud-native architecture help businesses achieve day one and two operational simplicity?

In a nutshell, the adoption of cloud-native architecture allows businesses to bring in all the benefits of the public cloud from an infrastructure standpoint while extending them to lifecycle management. The biggest and most observable difference is that a significant burden of responsibility for assurance, performance, reliability, replication and self-healing can move to the underlying cloud-native platform that provides your container orchestration. An interesting fact is that with the right platform, businesses don't have to refactor and transform everything from scratch anymore, including their monolithic applications, depending on the technology stack used.

With all of these parameters working to its advantage, the industry is gradually shifting to cloud-native. One strong indicator is the growth in the number of public cloud providers and hyperscalers that are offering a variant of cloud-native operations and Kubernetes as part of their portfolio. Vendor ecosystems are, too, headed in the same direction with a lot of them now moving from virtual network functions (VNF) to cloud-native network functions (CNF). With these changes underway, businesses are now in a position of power to revisit the balance of control between what they can do on their own now versus what they should offload to the vendors who provide the right-fit solutions for their cloud-native architecture.

If we take the example of the telecom industry – it is constantly evolving, and innovation is a key ingredient. Over the last few years, businesses have invested in development and maintenance to build up assurance, performance, replication and resilience, possibly because they did not have many alternatives. It was the post-virtualization era, and standard or centralized cloud capabilities was still emerging.

If businesses step back and evaluate their infrastructure, it is easy to realize that a significant amount of the investments they are continuing to make can be used for other innovations by adopting the right cloud-native automation and orchestration platform. The burden of responsibility now shifts to the underlying platform. Because such a platform works at scale and provides all the infrastructure and lifecycle management services, there is a strong commercial reason to adopt it. Business and IT teams can now focus on what is indispensable and strategic rather than invest time in “process plumbing” or reinventing the wheel.

Cloud-native and 5G: Kick-starting the journey

Cloud-native also opens up immense possibilities when it comes to 5G adoption.

These days operators are tasked with choosing between vendor lock-ins and ecosystem lock-ins. Whichever road they choose, cloud-native allows them unmatched flexibility and interoperability already proven in production. While cloud-native architecture is an opinionated architecture, the ecosystem is evolving, with more and more vendors providing their services and offerings on the cloud-native platform. There is a massive amount of community support behind it.

The choice to adopt cloud-native is economical as well. For example, the move from an existing estate of monolithic applications, network functions, or VM to the cloud can be expensive because of the extensive retire-replace-refactoring cycle involved. When it comes to cloud-native, this challenge is easily resolved. The Symcloud™ Cloud Native Platform (CNP) can run a VNF as-is, without significant code change. It can also coexist with any other CNF on the same platform. The flexibility to lift, shift or transform your applications or processes economically, the way you want to, is now just a click away. The platform can also run VMs 30% more efficiently than just on their hypervisors while providing a single-pane view of the whole operational environment. From CapEx as well as OpEx standpoints, that's an amazing win.

This is just one of the many examples of how cloud-native offerings like Symcloud™ are accelerating innovation in the telecom industry. However, as with any transformation, the outcomes are based on how much time and effort a business invests in building the right IT roadmap to underpin its strategic vision. It is critical to cultivate a true understanding of what cloud-native can mean for a business and whether it's even the right choice for it. Finding out the right use cases is strategically crucial while working on the roadmap.

To simplify this process, the first step organizations need to take is to outline the low-hanging fruits – the technology, operations or technology-enabled use cases – which could be re-platformed onto cloud-native and which could provide them with the highest ROI. It is important to bear in mind that cloud-native is an opinionated architecture. The discipline it enforces ensures that developers and vendors stick to cloud-native principles in terms of continuity, standardization, consistency plus more.

Let us look at 5G as a sample use case. The sheer, disaggregated nature of 5G, the massive scalability, and the self-healing, resilient and performance-oriented outlook are extremely challenging and cost-prohibitive in a non-cloud-native environment. On the other hand, a cloud-native ecosystem is an instant accelerator that gives operators tremendous flexibility to do things their way – both in terms of the internal setup as well as in interfacing with vendors and service providers seamlessly. Cloud-native unlocks opportunities for innovative businesses to collaborate with like-minded vendors and service providers and leverage significant benefits and revenue returns.

AI + cloud-native = innovation?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is another paradigm that has demonstrated unmatched capabilities in empowering numerous telecom use cases. Outside of 5G, one of the areas where AI is showing its flex is through cloud-native deployments on the edge. Self-healing and service assurance are impacted in a big way by the advanced capabilities, like plug-and-play, that cloud-native brings to the table.

Similarly, customer insights and analytics are also impacted in a big way. With the explosion of data being created at the edge, operators and users stand to benefit from circumventing the transit to and back from a data center, thousands of kilometers away. AI/ML embedded use cases on the edge demand cloud-native infrastructure because the latter can easily unlock advantageous features like capacity, performance, self-replication, and scale that AI-enabled use cases thrive on.

There’s a lot of innovation happening at the edge! Know more about how telco edge cloud platforms, like Rakuten Symphony’s Symcloud™, are shifting the paradigm and driving massive benefits to operators worldwide.

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