Virtualizing Network Functions Through Containerized…

Monday November 22, 2021



System administrators can obtain a more cost-effective commodity infrastructure by virtualizing network functions such as firewalls, routers, load balancing, and directory services as software applications. As a result, administrators can shift from physical network functions (PNFs) working on expensive proprietary hardware to virtual network functions (VNFs), saving time, effort, and the bottom line.

In this transition from physical processes to virtual network functions, many vendors have simply transferred embedded software applications from hardware to create a single massive Virtual Machine (VM) -- usually without taking steps to optimize it. The result was often inefficient, single-function virtual appliances that were difficult to maintain and manage.

With cloud-native approaches to digital transformation becoming increasingly common, multiple network virtualization initiatives use containers instead of Virtual Machines. In this article, we'll be examining some of the reasons for this.

Virtualizing Network Functions Through Containerized Services

Evolving from Virtual Machine deployment to a fully cloud-native design enables digital service and telecommunications providers to utilize both centralized and distributed locations for their applications. In addition, this evolution allows for greater flexibility, more reliable and scalable systems, and easier portability. These are all factors that empower service providers to deploy rapidly innovative solutions to meet current market demands.

Using containers instead of VMs to virtualize network functions allows engineers to create self-contained software packages without requiring shared access to operating systems and other hardware resources. Containers also enable different service components to be easily moved between various environments such as development, production, and testing. Better yet, this approach supports multi-cloud strategies in which containerized network functions can initially be developed in public clouds such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. Then, later be migrated to cloud edges and on-premise data centers as the service volume justifies further infrastructure investments.

The New Approach in Action

One of the biggest success stories in recent years of virtualizing network functions through containerizing network services is Rakuten's new 5G vRAN architecture.

In 2019, Rakuten Mobile partnered with NEC to build the world's first 5G open vRAN architecture in Japan. Five months after the initial launch, Rakuten Mobile became the first operator to launch a commercial-scale, cloud-native 5G network. Using advanced massive Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) and millimeter-wave (mmWave) radios, this network covers both sub-6 GHz and mmWave frequency bands. Baseband functions are deployed as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs), making it possible for Rakuten Mobile to automate various operational tasks, including fault detection, failure recovery (self-healing), and new cell site integration. In addition, the new network can dynamically reallocate resources on-demand and minimize Operational Expenditure (OpEx).

This proven OpenRAN technology is already spreading fast. For example, in August 2021, Rakuten Symphony announced its partnership with 1&1 AG in Germany to build Europe's first fully virtualized mobile network. During a related briefing, Rakuten also revealed to the public that they are interacting with 82 telecom companies worldwide on their 5G vRAN initiative.

Benefits of Cloud-Native Technologies for Telecommunications Providers

For telecommunications providers, having a robust cloud infrastructure enables rapid service deployment, a faster response to changes in demand, and the ability to manage resources centrally and more efficiently. These benefits are clear and proven as Rakuten has recently released its expansion plans to the overseas cloud market.

Cloud infrastructures coupled with working practices such as Agile methodologies and DevOps, innovative technologies like containers, microservices, and network orchestration, supply telecommunications providers with the speed, agility, and scalability to make all of this possible.

Furthermore, Containerization of network services provides a high level of abstraction, reducing the complexity of managing the underlying network infrastructure. Containerization gives developers the freedom to concentrate on business-critical code while operations teams take responsibility for infrastructure management.

By decomposing network functions and applications into loosely coupled systems, the microservices architecture gives telecommunications providers, such as Rakuten, access to lightweight and manageable apps that are shareable across multiple network functions, applications, and geo-locations. Add in network automation, and microservices enable engineers and administrators to easily and quickly make network functions and infrastructure changes. Additionally, each microservices module can be deployed individually, scaled, and upgraded using a Container as a Service or CaaS environment.

Overall, and when compared to virtualized network functions created using VMs, cloud-native applications enable:

  • Telecommunications providers to have greater control over their network deployment
  • Increased speed of software upgrades and releases.
  • Automated controls via the embedded features of the Container as a Service (CaaS) layer.
  • System engineers to use software architecture to optimize the use of cloud data center resources.
  • A shorter time-to-market for new services

FusionLayer is the only established DDI vendor already experienced in providing containerized solutions to state-of-the-art 5G telecommunication environments. If you'd like to know more about how FusionLayer can assist in your organization's transformation for a cloud-native future, get in touch with us.

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