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 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 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 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
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 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.