Operators are currently modernizing their network for 5G deployments. An important element in this transformation is the disaggregation of hardware and software. This transformation is seen in both the 5G Core (5GC) and Radio Access Network (RAN) architecture. Furthermore, the decoupling of hardware and software opens up the ability to support multi-vendor networks. SDN and NFV emerged as innovative technologies for service providers to build their next-generation networks.
3GPP specifications defined the 5GC network as a service-based architecture, where each element in the core network is a virtual network function and there are service-based interfaces (SBI) to talk to each other. This architecture is suited for cloud-native micro-services-based deployments. There is a huge transformation of Network Functions (NF) to the cloud-native world. Kubernetes, the open-source container orchestration platform, is the de-facto standard that operators are adopting for deploying their 5G workloads.
RAN deployments were mainly driven by few vendors with proprietary implementation and RAN composition typically purchased from a single entity during 3G/4G deployments. The lack of interoperability between RAN vendors forced operators to stick to the same vendor. According to 3GPP 5G standards, the RAN (gNodeB) components are split into the Central Unit (CU) and the Distributed Unit (DU) for flexibility in deployment. Open RAN (O-RAN) ecosystem extended this architecture to more open interfaces and the disaggregation of hardware and software components. There are new interfaces introduced for interactive service management and orchestration framework and RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC). There are mechanisms that analyze network conditions, allowing applications to feed it back into the RIC for decision-making.
The O-RAN architecture is not just about splitting the RAN components. It includes an orchestration layer, for applications running on Consumer off The Shelf (COTS) hardware and introduces standard interfaces (O1 and A1) between the orchestration layer and the virtualization layer. This also offers operators the flexibility to orchestrate any multi-vendor CU and DU workloads in Edge sites or radio sites, on any x86 hardware infrastructure.
Operators are no longer buying proprietary hardware from vendors to build their networks, but are building their data centers to host the applications using a multi-vendor ecosystem. 5G deployments typically span across multiple data centers, including core, edge and far edge data centers. The edge and far edge (radio) sites are deployed at scale and are geographically distributed across the country. It is nearly impossible to manually onboard 1000s of servers across different sites. Thus, there is a need for automating and orchestrating the end-to-end lifecycle of infrastructure at scale. This includes installing the OS, configuring and updating bare-metal COTS servers, configuring networking and storage, installing Kubernetes clusters, onboarding NFs and Network Service (NS) lifecycle management. There are no industry standards defined around infrastructure automation (compute, storage and network resource), but this is a mandatory requirement for operators to build their network at a faster pace. At the 5G scale, this involves numerous, error-prone, manual operations, just to ready the servers for deployment. There is a need to fine-tune the edge servers with multiple settings at OS and kernel to meet the throughput and latency requirements for CU, DU and UPF workloads. Automated bare-metal server readiness will significantly reduce costs and lower deployment time from days to minutes.
When operators started adopting virtual network functions in their network, they saw the need for standards to automate and orchestrate, which facilitated interoperability. European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) came up with Network Function Virtualization (NFV) Management and Orchestration (MANO) architecture for mobile networks and edge applications. ETSI MANO specifies different roles and interfaces involved in the orchestration and automation of network functions on a virtualized infrastructure. Operators use this reference architecture to build their MANO framework for their 4G/5G deployments. This includes how to manage NFVI resources and VNF resources from the orchestrator and enable services on the network functions. MANO architecture started with automating and orchestrating virtual network functions (VNFs) and now extends the same to container network functions (CNFs).
The architectural shift in the 5G network clearly introduces the need for automation and orchestration in the 5GC, RAN and infrastructure (data center or cloud). Operators have the flexibility to build a multi-vendor network, where they can pick and choose the best-of-breed solutions for each network function. The challenge that operators typically face, when it comes to orchestrating, automating and managing multi-vendor applications, is choosing a Kubernetes platform that meets all of the needs of their application. Each NF vendor might have their own orchestration, automation and Kubernetes platforms. This creates a challenge for operators to manage multiple tools and interoperability between them. Also, operators have the flexibility to choose different x86 hardware from hardware vendors and each might have its own automation tools to configure and manage the server settings. There is a need for a single orchestration and lifecycle automation layer, with a single Kubernetes platform, managing everything — 5GC, RAN, supporting applications, appliances — and the underlying x86 hardware infrastructure. The operators need a single pane of glass to operate, manage and visualize their 5G network. Also, they need to onboard the servers and network functions with zero-touch provisioning.
Symworld Orchestrator is a multi-data center, multi-cloud automation tool that can orchestrate the deployment of all the components of 5G networks, including bare-metal servers, Kubernetes clusters, RAN and Core network functions. Before onboarding any network function or installing the Kubernetes cluster, a server must be updated and configured. Symworld Orchestrator performs full bare-metal life cycle management and can verify, install, upgrade, configure and bootstrap your server infrastructure. These are not simple scripts, they are contextually aware workflows with numerous user-defined checkpoints and forks that guide your installation to its desired conclusion. Transform a server, without configuration or operating system, via the Baseboard Management Controller (BMC), Ethernet, or serial connection. Monitor and manage readiness:
Symworld Orchestrator orchestrates and manages the lifecycle of any workflow including, bare-metal provisioning, cloud platform instantiation, network functions, network services and methods of procedures (MOPs), all of which can be auto-triggered through a policy engine. Orchestrator's automated workflows support cloud-native NFs (CNFs), Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and Physical Network Functions (PNFs) simultaneously. Symworld Orchestrator can be deployed in central DC and can manage all the remote DC servers, Kubernetes clusters and applications like RAN Centralized Unit (CU), Distributed Unit (DU), User Plane Function (UPF) and 5G Core (AMF, SMF, PCF) that span across different regions and some of them can co-locate with radio sites. Orchestrator software comes with a built-in workflow manager, where the network admin can build different workflows for the above-mentioned use cases. The workflow can be installing an OS on a bare-metal server and installing a Symworld Cloud Native Platform (CNP) in high availability (HA) mode or instantiating an NF on a cluster. There are a set of predefined workflows in the Orchestrator workflow factory. Customers can define custom workflows inside the Orchestrator workflow studio according to their needs. The workflow will support anything from bare-metal server configuration all the way to network service instantiation and lifecycle management.
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Symworld CNP is a carrier-grade Kubernetes platform that is fine-tuned to run 5G Core and RAN applications across the edge and central data centers. Symworld CNP starts with open standards, upstream Kubernetes without change and adds telco-grade CNI that supports network acceleration technologies, including Single Root I/O Virtualization (SR-IOV), Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and persistent IP and Multus plugin support. The Container Network Interface (CNI) also provides overlay networking (Calico) and Open vSwitch (OVS). The next addition is an enhanced Container Storage Interface (CSI) storage layer that includes unique application-aware data services including, snapshots, backup and clone and complex service level management capabilities.
Symworld™ Cloud also adds an enhanced application workflow manager that interfaces with the Kubernetes scheduler and supports complex placement policies like NUMA-aware CPU pinning, complex affinity and anti-affinity rules and HugePages support. The scheduler also adds a Container Runtime Interface (CRI) multiplexer that allows seamless deployment of VMs (VNFs) on containers, enabling efficient resource-sharing and removing operations silos. Symworld™ Cloud also adds enhanced observability capabilities and application-aware automation capabilities.
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Symworld™ Cloud’s carrier-grade networking and advanced workload placement can meet all the typical requirements of 5G applications, which require high-throughput, low latency and scalability. Symworld™ Cloud allows you to model your resource needs and dependencies with a simple graphical declarative interface. Once modeled, in seconds, Symworld™ Cloud applications seek out and configure the resources for you. Furthermore, the modeled policy is pinned to your application and can automatically reconfigure over stops, starts, heals and migrations, for the lifecycle of the application.
Some of the key features offered for 5G network functions include:
The industry is currently transitioning from virtual machines to cloud-native solutions and will be doing so for many years. There are some network functions that are from the 3G/4G world which may not be containerized soon. Symworld™ Cloud provides a platform to run both CNFs and VNFs simultaneously. Using Symworld CNP platform, operators will be able to build their network with a mix of VNFs and CNFs and they don’t need to wait for vendor roadmaps to complete their application containerization strategy — hence faster to market.
Additionally, CNP supports multi-tenancy and role-based access on any cluster so that operators can bring in multiple vendors and allocate resources required for each vendor application. CNP has built-in monitoring tools to monitor the cluster with open-source tools such as Grafana and Prometheus. Operators can integrate with their own monitoring tools to monitor the cluster and network functions running on it.
Symworld™ Cloud enables you to operate 5G network deployments with unmatched lifecycle simplicity, performance, scale and advanced workload placement. By utilizing Symworld Orchestrator with its bare-metal to services orchestration and the industry’s most advanced cloud platform, Symworld CNP enables the following benefits: