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The future of distributed cloud and 5G for the new age

5G and the distributed cloud will shape a new age in technology. There is a very real near-term economic incentive to evolve to a 5G network, but in order for telco providers to deliver additional value to their customers and attract new categories of customers, there is a key component to success: They must be able to harness the power of distributed cloud computing.

Distributed cloud computing will be a cornerstone for the advancement of technology, especially in the new working world, and specifically for 5G.

A recent Wind River study gauged the impact of COVID-19 on businesses and found that 90% of those surveyed have had to undergo some change in their business processes. While those who are focused on using this time to digitally transform (vs. simply survive) are placing 50% more focus in the areas of 5G, containers and cloud native technology.

Infrastructure is key

We know the new 5G world can't be created with the same old infrastructure. 4G infrastructure works fine for what it does, but on a practical level, it simply cannot keep up with the demand coming from increased users and new applications.

Part of the investment in new infrastructure will be in vRAN. Virtualizing the radio access network opens up a level of flexibility, efficiency and cost control that isn't possible with existing infrastructure and service providers know this. A survey conducted by Heavy Reading tells us 29% of telcos expect to be fully deployed in Virtual RAN (vRAN) in less than three years on what has typically been a ten-year life cycle. So we are talking about massive investments with very short timelines because of the enormous potential of this technology.

However, organizations won't just need to invest in new equipment. In the past, systems would be designed to work with bespoke equipment bought from an equipment manufacturer. This strategy has some appeal as the equipment works very well and does what it is designed to do however it is not flexible and it is not cost effective especially when deployed across tens of thousands of sites. This is in large part what is driving service providers to look at new models.

Technical challenges for deploying distributed cloud

In the same Wind River survey mentioned above, 38% of operators view the edge cloud as "critical" to their 5G strategy. And, operators are extremely bullish on vRAN. However, deploying the distributed edge cloud for vRAN is complex.

The size and scope of a 5G network creates unprecedented complexities and technology demands including integrating new hardware, infrastructure and applications. This must be done across tens of thousands of compute nodes needed to support the edge within a single operator's infrastructure. Efficiently deploying, operating, and managing this network, as well as being able to scale to thousands of distributed sites, is a very complex challenge.

The survey also identified the top three concerns from operators as: "systems integration, testing, and verification" (58%), "multi-vendor operation complexity" (46%) and "edge cloud server performance" (36%). Additionally, analytics and monitoring of edge cloud infrastructure will be critical to day-to-day operations. When asked about the importance of analytics and monitoring, 56% of operators site "security" as their chief interest, followed by "performance" (44%)."

Telco providers need solutions that include very high levels of automation for ease of deployment. They need analytics to know what is happening in the network, and a single pane of glass visibility in order to manage the network. They also need automation for zero-touch provisioning to ease the burden of managing the network along with live software updates to keep their network up to date without interruption.

It takes an ecosystem

Service providers need to work with an ecosystem of providers and partners in order to be successful with 5G. In recognition of this fact, service providers are investing in open source project and consortia. This investment creates a team effort to leverage the best and brightest minds in the world via open source activities as well as commercial partnerships.

A key benefit to this approach is the ability to gain access to the code via open source as well as the ability to see the software interact with other vendors and projects through plug fests. Some of the projects and consortia that are particularly relevant in this space include the O-RAN alliance, the Telecom Infra Project or "TIP," the Linux Foundation with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and of course OpenStack.

Conclusion

5G is complex and there are many moving pieces. Getting the distributed cloud right, from the beginning, will be critical for long term success. Distributed cloud is the technology that will usher us into a new age. As it is deployed in 5G vRAN and other applications, it will be the technology that enables activities that have yet to be imagined.

— Paul Miller, Chief Technology Officer, Wind River

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