Many years ago, I worked at a network equipment provider, where I shared an office with the mobile core team. And every morning, as I walked through the reception area, I would pass a pair of towering, refrigerator-sized CGSN and SGSN nodes. Each node could deliver wireless access protocol (WAP) service to about 50,000 subscribers. At the same time, companies like VMware and Sun Microsystems were just starting to take the concept of IT virtualization mainstream.
How times have changed. And it’s because of the Democratization of IT.
Today, IT applications are being rewritten to adopt cloud-native principles and deployed in hybrid cloud environments that are maintained with a DevOps model. Yet while IT applications for functional domains such as Online Channels, Customer Relationship Management, Sales Force Automation, and Human Capital Management have already made the transition to a cloud-native design, network applications have only recently begun to embark on virtualization and the first wave of digitalization.
The Democratization of Networks
We hear a lot of debate in the industry around the impact of 5G, but I believe another and equally important topic is being ignored: the democratization of the network. Never before has the network been more accessible. The democratization of technology and the network is taking place, led by open-based technologies and evolving commercial models such as open, web-based interfaces, cloud-native architectures, and public cloud deployments.
Few people would argue the necessity of cloud-native network functions to deliver service and operational agility, but what lessons can the network community learn from the evolution of on-premise software to virtualized software and, finally, to truly cloud-native software? Will the traditional barriers between networks and IT collapse until all applications are deployed on horizontal platforms? I believe the answer is a definitive Yes.
Today, most service providers have separate IT and network teams that reflect the historical separation of the two technologies. This is rapidly changing, however. As service providers come to realize that the network and IT functions can be developed, deployed and managed from a common open-source infrastructure, the heated discussions between IT and Networking over topics such as converged charging and prepaid platforms have become a distant memory.
There are still points for discussion, of course; for example, the need for an infrastructure that supports both CPU-intensive and I/O-intensive workloads. But there are many similarities and synergies that can be derived by jointly designing a network and IT applications in areas such as security, reliability, and resiliency. And, really, shouldn’t we be working together to create a common set of requirements, platforms, and processes to develop, manage and maintain both IT and network applications?
The Solution for Service Providers
The solution, I believe, lies in the creation of a common platform and a common team to architect, deploy and operate the core applications of the future. Labeling an application as an “IT application” or a “network application” is less important than creating an underlying platform that has the built-in flexibility and adaptability to serve the future needs of both IT and networking. Service providers cannot count on traditional vendors to deliver this future. These vendors have a legacy hardware business to protect and are saddled with legacy software that cannot fulfill the basic requirements of cloud-native.
What service providers need is choice. For example, they should be able to choose whether they deploy network applications on bare metal, in a private cloud, in a public cloud or in a hybrid cloud running on a common platform. Affirmed is committed to delivering more choices to service providers through the industry’s only truly cloud-native mobile core solution built on a common, open-source platform. It’s much more than a platform for virtualization; it’s a platform for innovation.
Think about it: How will service providers operate networks and deliver network assurance as the cloudification of the network goes mainstream? Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient to have a single observability platform (e.g., Grafana) for both IT and network functions? From a service agility perspective, IT has been using microservices for years to rapidly deliver new software functionality and capabilities. Now, for the first time, IT and network functions can take advantage of the same technologies while using the same tools, processes, and people – thanks to democratization.
Service providers can now leverage a common platform for all their enterprise applications, whether they’re IT or network applications. This has the benefit of improving agility and operations while reducing costs. Of course, to do this, the platform has to be flexible enough to support the various workload configurations, evolve as the open-source tools evolve and support multiple use cases and deployment models.
It’s the promise of new 5G use cases, operational models and cost efficiencies that will drive service providers to review their current platform choices and look for a better solution. On the other side of that solution are a democracy of IT and network teams working together on a shared goal of a better future. Affirmed Networks is ready for that future right now. Are you?