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Microservices Observability Brings Clarity to Cloud-Native Network

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

In the world of microservices, observability is an important concept. Yes, containers and automation are very important concepts too, but with observability, you can see what your microservices are doing, and you have the assurance that they’re performing and behaving correctly.

In the traditional telco world, this concept is known as service assurance. There are vendors who specialize in service assurance solutions that observe network traffic by pulling data straight from the fiber connections through physical taps. But how do you put a physical tap on a virtual machine? And how do you monitor cloud-native microservices when there may be thousands of them deployed on single VM at a given moment in time?

The answer, of course, is you can’t. What works in the physical world is, in the cloud-native world, virtually impossible. Instead, the broader cloud community has developed a robust ecosystem of observability tools to provide service assurance in cloud-native network. Some of these tools are relatively new, while others have been used by enterprises and cloud providers for years. When Affirmed built its 5G Core solution, we made an important decision to leverage the best microservices observability tools through our Platform as a Service (PaaS) layer, giving mobile network operators (MNOs) a simple, effective way to deliver service assurance.

Four Aspects of Observability in Cloud-Native Networks

The concept of observability in the cloud-native networking world is similar to FCAPS in the traditional telco world. Observability can be broken into four categories: application performance management; logging and events; faults; and tracing.

Application performance management

(APM) measures key performance indicators (KPIs) such as latency. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) recommends Prometheus as its KPI collection/storage tool. Prometheus is tightly integrated with Kubernetes and Helm; when you deploy a cloud-native Network Function (CNF), Prometheus is deployed with it, allowing it to scrape data from microservices in a non-intrusive and efficient manner. This data is then visualized through a tool called Grafana, which creates dashboards using widgets; Affirmed also integrates Grafana and includes pre-built dashboards and widgets into its 5GC solution.

Logging and events

This records what is actually happening to apps and microservices in the cloud-native environment. Cloud providers generally use what is known as the EFK stack—Elasticsearch, Fluentd and Kibana—to record logs and generate alerts. At a high level, Fluentd collects the logs and messages, Elasticsearch stores them and Kibana provides the data visualization, again using dashboards.

Faults

To detect faults, open-source offers two tools: ElastAlert (so named because it is designed to work with Elasticsearch) and Prometheus’ Alert Manager, which comes bundled with the Prometheus tool. ElastAlert lets you set specific rules and policies to manage alerts (e.g., when X happens, send Y alert via SMS), while Alert Manager generates alerts when specific numerical thresholds are passed.

Tracing

Tracing is something unique to the cloud-native world, allowing network operators to track the exchanges between different microservices. For example, microservice A might invoke microservice B to complete a process, which in turn invokes microservice C and ultimately returns control back to microservice A. As you might imagine, tracking the exchanges between every microservice instance would generate an almost-unmanageable amount of data, so tracking tools like Jaeger (which is supported by CNCF) only collect a very small sample (the default sample rate is a tenth of one percent) of these exchanges for analysis and visualization. But even this small sample is useful, as it provides visibility into how microservices are functioning.  And through policy, this global sampling percentage can be overridden for transactions containing certain data (e.g., for a particular 5GC ‘slice’ or from a particular user).

 

Beyond those four aspects of observability, there’s still more to see in a cloud-native architecture. For example, tools like Istio, Envoy and Kiali are used to illustrate the microservices topology (referred to in the industry as a service mesh) and show where errors are happening. (Service meshes are worthy of their own blog, so stay tuned for that.)

In addition to using open-source, third-party tools, a fully virtualized probing solution can record data logging and event data within the microservice itself. Think of a fully virtualized Probe as logging and events on steroids, as it captures detailed microservices data from every CNF and user endpoint: TCP roundtrip times and retransmission rates, deep packet inspection details, and the list goes on. Unlike traditional physical probes, vProbe doesn’t negatively impact network performance, and generates a wealth of data to support big data analyses, artificial intelligence and machine-learning systems.

If your 5G vendor isn’t as transparent in how their solutions support observability, maybe you should be looking for a new vendor.

Are You Ready for the Automatic, Non-Stop Future?

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

A few years back, the cloud community went through a kind of container craze. Everything you read seemed to be about containers and how they were going to revolutionize the software development industry. The thing is, containers are just, well, containers. They contain all the elements needed to run a particular process, which dramatically simplifies software by making it smaller and self-contained, but by themselves they’re just a small part of something bigger. That bigger thing, as I covered in a recent blog, is called a microservice.

How Dynamic Orchestration, Cloud Containers, and Microservices Work Together

Microservices will revolutionize software development as everything moves to the cloud. But here again, they won’t do it alone. If you’re familiar will the requirements of a cloud-native architecture, you’ll recall there are three key requirements of a cloud-native framework: containers, microservices and dynamic orchestration. This last requirement is absolutely critical, because it’s where the value of containers and microservices is realized. Small, agile and self-contained is very important, but only provided you can automate and perpetuate the software lifecycle.

If you think of the lifecycle of software, there are three basic stages: birth (deployment), midlife (updates, changes) and death (removal). In the current telco world, each stage requires a lot of effort, which tends to stifle innovation and adaptation. With dynamic orchestration, you can automate these stages so that new software versions can be instantly created, updated and removed based on pre-defined criteria including real-time traffic demands. You read that right: with dynamic orchestration, you can actually have a system that knows when to create or retire new instances of microservices and does so automatically because you’ve already told it how to behave under certain conditions.

Kubernetes & Helm: Key Tools for Dynamic Orchestration

The keys to dynamic orchestration consist of one relatively new software tool, Kubernetes, and one very new software tool, Helm. Together, Kubernetes and Helm allow software teams to run containers in a contextual group called a pod and apply declarative statements to manage the behavior of those pods under certain conditions. In the case of Affirmed’s virtualized Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF), for example, the AMF pod features three separate containers: the AMF call control container, the service mesh communication proxy container (what is referred to as a helper container) and Affirmed’s infrastructure container featuring multiple supplemental sidecars (a Kubernetes term) with supporting services. Kubernetes groups pod types like these together and sets rules or conditions regarding the AMF network function that automatically apply to all instances of it in the network.

The role of Helm is to provide Kubernetes with a system-level view of the network, giving Kubernetes a kind of built-in intelligence. Compared to a VNF manager telling OpenStack what to do (something called an imperative command), Helm shares intelligence about pod types and the rules/conditions that have been declared as ideal (e.g., use up to 80 percent of CPU for a particular pod type), so that Kubernetes can dynamically and automatically do the right thing under the right circumstances.

Kubernetes and Helm are a significant improvement in the cloud world. In fact, the chief mission of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) is to promote the adoption of Kubernetes for all cloud computing environments. Relative to OpenStack plus one (or more) VNF managers, Kubernetes + Helm is much more efficient in terms of lightness and agility. Where OpenStack is reactive—i.e., it only does what it’s told to do—Kubernetes is proactive. Told once, Kubernetes remembers what the ideal state is for a particular pod type and will automatically take corrective actions to achieve that state when possible.

The idea of dynamically automated network has been a holy grail for a long time. What Kubernetes + Helm does is invite telco software developers and their customers to the non-stop, automatic party of the 5G future. We hope we’ll see you there.

 

Cloud-Native Microservices: Dream A Little Dream

by Ron Parker Ron Parker No Comments

If you haven’t heard of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) yet, don’t worry, you will soon. Although they’ve only been around for a few years, the CNCF is already helping to shape the future by rallying developers and engineers around the importance of building cloud-native networks and applications. Key to their vision of the future is a little something known as a microservice. Now, you might not think something with such a small-sounding name could be a big deal, but you’d be mistaken. Cloud-native microservices are a very big deal if you plan on delivering applications in the future.

Microservices are one of the three building blocks that define a cloud-native approach, according to the CNCF. The other two blocks are containers and dynamic orchestration, and each of those is worth its own blog, which I hope to talk about in the near future. But I’m focusing on microservices first because I believe it has the potential to be the most impactful to our telecommunications industry.

Why Cloud-Native Microservices are Important

Before I get ahead of myself, let me backtrack by explaining what a microservice is and why it’s important. If you look at software development in the telco industry today, it’s a big and bulky affair. Software consumes a lot of processing and storage, even after virtualization, and evolves slowly over one or two major iterations per year. It’s expensive to create, test and update this software because it has so many unique parts: policy engine, security, database, etc. As a result, new telco applications are few and far between—the opposite of how most agile over-the-top competitors and cloud service providers work today.

Cloud-native microservices are essentially the moving parts that make up traditional software, unbundled and placed in containers for easier management. So instead of a single, massive software application consuming several virtual machines, you might have 30 individual microservices that are constantly updated—weekly or even daily—and run on one or two virtual CPUs for much better scalability and efficiency. More importantly, new applications can be composed from microservices in a matter of days or even hours, and torn down just as quickly without impacting the network.

Now is The Time for Telcos to Adopt Cloud-Native Microservices

If this system sounds familiar, it should—it’s the way that Amazon, Google and other visionary cloud providers have been building their applications for years. Today, most enterprises have adopted the microservices model as well, from mobile healthcare applications to online financial services. For telcos, the time is right to adopt microservices, particularly as they look ahead to the new revenue opportunities presented by 5G and technologies such as network slicing. The ability to slice traffic based on unique requirements (e.g., latency, security, scalability) will be critical as telco carriers partner with their enterprise customers to enable the next generation of 5G services. Network slicing presumes that carriers will also be able to provide tailored services across those slices, something that will require a microservices-based approach if telcos hope to compete with agile OTT/cloud companies for that opportunity.

In a very real sense, cloud-native microservices have the power to transform telcos into innovation factories. For years, telcos have been forced to dream big: if an idea couldn’t justify the huge investment in time and cost required to develop, test and launch it as a service, it was shelved. With microservices, even small dreams can come true, because the investment in time and cost is minimal, and the impact on existing network services is nominal. That fail-fast, succeed-faster model is what allows the Amazons and Googles of the world to take chances without taking risks.

It’s a world that telcos are about to discover for themselves. So go ahead, dream a little dream. It might just have a bigger impact than you ever imagined.

 

5G Services: Profitable for Business

by Anudha Sawarkar Anudha Sawarkar No Comments

4G opened up a whole new world to consumers. Seemingly overnight, a vast ecosystem of mobile applications appeared that allowed consumers to do everything from watch movies on their tablets to make bank deposits from their smartphone. But 4G didn’t have a substantial an impact on enterprises beyond the need to mobile-enable their existing services.

The Difference Between 4G and 5G

5G, however, will have an enormous impact on enterprises. What 4G has been to consumers, 5G will be for enterprises: it will change the way they interact with the world around them. And, for service providers, 5G opens up a new world of opportunities to partner with enterprises.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the difference between 4G and 5G more clearly than the projected markets that service providers will serve in the future. The chart below on the left shows where service provider revenue comes from today; not surprisingly, consumer-centric services drive the lion’s share of revenue. But on the right, we see where revenue sources are expected to be in 2025. That’s not a mistake: the vast majority of service provider revenue in the next five years will come from enterprises, not consumers.

5G Targeted Services

5G: More about vertically targeted services

Enterprise customers have historically been the most profitable for service providers, yet it remains a small portion of the overall market. 5G changes all that because, for the first time, service providers are offering enterprises more than connectivity; they’re offering innovation that allows enterprises to not only do things more efficiently, but do different kinds of things, from smart factories to drone deliveries.

Why 5G will be Profitable for Service Providers

Right now, 5G is a wide-open field of opportunity. We’re only beginning to see how the ubiquitous mobile broadband, IoT interoperability and low-latency communications enabled by 5G will drive business innovation, but the early applications are already generating excitement: self-driving vehicles, remote real-time medical care, smart factories, smart cities, augmented reality, and the list goes on. In these scenarios, service providers aren’t simply providing the underlying network infrastructure; they’re critical partners in the service delivery as well, adding analytics, intelligence and assurance to 5G services that will differentiate them in the market.

No wonder service providers are excited about 5G. But they’re not the only ones. Over-the-top (OTT) competitors, from Amazon to as-yet-unknown start-ups, will figure prominently in the 5G mix, and mobile service providers will need to figure out ways to out-serve and out-innovate them. That competitive advantage could come in the form of unique network intelligence that allows enterprises to customize their 5G services, or by providing a better service experience through technologies such as Wi-Fi data roaming.

One thing is clear: service providers need to begin mobilizing their business model around 5G enterprise opportunities today. For example, we’re beginning to see tier one operators restructure their organizations around these opportunities. In the past, tier ones might have divided their business units between consumer, enterprise and, maybe, IoT. Today, it’s not unusual to see service providers structured by vertical industries—healthcare, banking, manufacturing, transportation, etc.—with new business initiatives built specifically around those industry opportunities. This gets to the heart of 5G’s transformative potential, because this isn’t simply a change in the way that the network is architected, but a change in the way a service provider’s business is architected.

What enterprise services will drive your revenue in the future? It’s a question you need to ask yourselves today, because it’s a certainty your competitors already are.

While You Were Waiting, for 5G, These Companies Just Beat You to Market

by Scott Heinlein Scott Heinlein No Comments

Fresh from Mobile World Congress, we all “get” that 5G will be a game changer. But if you’re waiting for 5G to officially arrive before you get into the game, you may find yourself on the sidelines. Right now, mobile operators around the world are already staking their claim on 5G-styled services, from international Wi-Fi data roaming to interconnected smart cities. How do we know this? Because they’re using our technology to do it.

Affirmed Networks has made some bold customer announcements in recent months that reveal how leading mobile operators are lining up for the 5G opportunities of the future. Here’s a quick recap at what our customers are doing to grab an early lead in the anticipated 5G frenzy.

Making Smart City Dreams a Reality

Dubai is looking to become the smartest city in the world, and the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company—known popularly under the brand du—is determined to help them get there. Working with Affirmed and partners, du is launching a state-of-the-art Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem that will support millions of interconnected “smart” devices, from parking meters to personal trackers. At the heart of the solution is Affirmed’s virtualized Narrow Band-IoT (NB-IoT) mobile core, which currently runs on a native cloud environment and provides advanced network slicing capabilities that will help du support hundreds of different kinds of data streams, from lifesaving medical devices to residential electricity meters. du’s efforts will give Dubai access to the world’s first NB-IoT network built on the new 3GPP Release 14 standards.

Cooking Up New Services Fast in a Unified Telco Cloud

Any conversation around 5G quickly comes around to the question of “How will operators pay for it?” With flat or shrinking revenues for traditional voice and data services, creating new revenue-generating services is the key to 5G’s future sustainability. Turkcell isn’t waiting for an answer; they’re creating those services today with one of EMEA’s largest virtualized mobile networks, featuring Affirmed’s virtualized EPC (vEPC) and virtualized GiLAN services technology. Turkcell calls their new virtualized platform the “Unified Telco Cloud,” and it’s clearly an idea accelerator. With their Affirmed-based solution, Turkcell has shaved months off their service creation cycle and significantly reduced both the capex and opex costs associated with new services, allowing Turkcell to price those services more competitively in the market.

At Orange, All Roads Lead to Roaming

5G calls for ubiquitous connectivity, but building out 5G radio coverage everywhere is an impractical proposition. A better solution? Let Wi-Fi go where 5G can’t—deliver strong wireless connectivity in remote and enclosed areas—with Wi-Fi data roaming services that connect seamlessly to the mobile core network. That’s what Orange is doing today, thanks to its Wi-Fi gateway solution from Affirmed, with new Wi-Fi data roaming services that will be rolled out to customers in traditionally hard-to-service locations such as cruise ships and airplanes. By offering subscribers a seamless broadband mobile experience wherever they are, Orange is clearly a mobile carrier on the move.

Orange, du and Turkcell are living proof that you don’t need to wait for 5G to launch the revenue-generating services of the future. If you’d like to know how your business can move forward with cloud-native, 5G-ready solutions today, hear more of the story  from Affirmed.