For operators planning and deploying 5G core networks, the choice of cloud platform is one of the most critical and far-reaching decisions they must make. One of the key choices is between infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS).
The new Heavy Reading "Cloud-Native 5G Core Operator Survey" published in March 2021 identifies a preference for an IaaS model (45%) over PaaS (32%) and vendor-integrated full stack (23%). Larger operators, however, skew toward PaaS.
The figure below shows expectations for the type of infrastructure that will run 5G core functions. It shows respondents favor an IaaS model in which the operator provides the compute, network and storage resources in their own data center and the vendor provides the infrastructure software and 5G core applications. This model is common in network functions virtualization (NFV) and has the advantage that the operator and vendor can optimize the performance of the 5G core in a timely manner, but at the expense of it being vertically quasi-siloed for the initial deployment.
In second place are the 32% that favor PaaS. In this model, the operator also provides the cloud infrastructure software (OS, runtime, orchestration, etc.) on which it can deploy a vendor's 5G core applications. This places greater responsibility on the operator and requires more advanced internal skills and capabilities. One advantage of this horizontal model is that operators can create a common private telco cloud platform for all network functions (and perhaps IT applications), with fewer silos and less vendor lock-in.
Respondents working for operators with revenue of more than $5 billion annually are somewhat more likely to select PaaS, with a score of 44% versus 41% for IaaS and 16% for the vendor full stack. Conversely, respondents working for operators with revenue of less than $5 billion reported a score 23% for PaaS, 49% for IaaS and 28% for the vendor full stack. This difference reflects corporate cloud technology strategies and, to some extent, the internal capabilities of the operator's technology team.
The overall picture, according to the survey, is that both PaaS and IaaS models are likely to be used over the near and medium terms. This accords with Heavy Reading's understanding that both models are already in use, in production, for 5G core. Nevertheless, we expect the PaaS model and the container as a service (CaaS) variant to prevail over the longer term, especially as 5G core workloads move closer to the edge.
The Heavy Reading "Cloud-Native 5G Core Operator Survey" focuses on the 3GPP 5G core, associated cloud infrastructure platforms and end user services. You can download a PDF copy here.
— Gabriel Brown, Senior Principal Analyst, Mobile Networks, Heavy Reading
This blog is sponsored by F5 Networks.