& cplSiteName &

The Road to Containerized Network Functions

Prayson Pate
12/20/2019

Service providers and enterprises are making heavy use of containers and microservices in today's cloud-based applications. They want to do the same for edge-deployed universal CPE (uCPE) using network functions virtualization (NFV).

But one of the limitations of today's NFV is the use of monolithic virtual network functions (VNFs) running in virtual machines (VMs). Users want consistency with their work in data center clouds, and that means cloud-native implementations of VNFs. It means breaking up the monoliths into a microservices architecture and implementing them in containers.

This is a noble goal, but the technology is not yet there. With a few exceptions, today's VNFs are implemented as monoliths running in VMs. But that's OK! There are solutions that support both VMs and containers today, so there's no reason to wait before deploying NFV-based services.

Innovation powered by the right platform
Today's VNFs are suitable for deploying dynamic and cost-effective services right now. They provide a seamless transition from hardware appliances to virtualized solutions. And by picking the right platform, you can gracefully migrate to containerized network functions (CNFs) as they become available. There are already a few CNFs implementing functions such as encryption and test agents, and they can coexist with VNFs.

Do VMs go away?
There's no reason to think so. Containers and VMs can have a yin-yang relationship, as shown in the figure below.

Containers have the advantage of consuming less memory and disk space, and they start faster. Plus, they enable implementation of a microservices architecture.

But VMs provide more isolation -- in terms of security, as well as regarding dependencies on the underlying operating system. Also, VNFs implemented in VMs are ubiquitous, and they are going to be around for a long time.

So we need both VMs and containers, and the right platform supports both. In fact, we see important reasons for VMs and containers to coexist today.

Consider a managed service where an operator wants to use containers for implementing some of the network functions. Let’s also say the end user wants to be able to run their own containerized functions. I have talked to a variety of operators, and they all say they will isolate the end user containerized applications using a VM. This will keep the end user applications separate from the operator's applications running directly on the platform.

The bottom line is that both VMs and containers are important. You can get started with today's VMs and migrate in the future -- without replacing the hosting hardware.

But what about networking performance?
CNFs have advantages over VMs related to size and startup time. But what I’ve seen in tests is that networking performance is similar. Both VNFs and CNFs can use technologies like Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and accelerated vSwitches to provide carrier-class performance.

Don't wait -- start now!
If you have a future-proof platform, you don't need to wait. You can start with today's plentiful VNFs and mix in containerized apps as needed. Over time you can migrate the VNFs to CNFs without having to upgrade the hardware. Don't get left behind waiting for tomorrow -- the time to start is now.

— Prayson Pate, CTO, Edge Cloud, ADVA

(0)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Related Stories
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
More Blogs from Column
As coherent optics development moves away from a one-size-fits-all approach, the market will favor vertically integrated suppliers and companies that were once suppliers will be competitors, writes industry veteran Serge Melle.
Communications service providers are accelerating the adoption of NFV and virtual networking in 2020-21, according to the results of an Ovum survey.
Cable operators are expanding their business services reach well beyond the traditional government, education and medical sectors to take in verticals like hospitality, agribusiness and even e-gaming.
For network operators with the right combination of assets, strategy and courage, gaming provides an interesting 5G avenue to explore.
For ten days in New York City, lawyers waged a final, all-out battle around the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile. A veteran court journalist was there for the whole thing. Here's what he saw.
Featured Video
Upcoming Live Events
March 16-18, 2020, Embassy Suites, Denver, Colorado
April 20, 2020, Las Vegas Convention Center
May 18-20, 2020, Irving Convention Center, Dallas, TX
May 18, 2020, Hackberry Creek Country Club, Irving, Texas
September 15-16, 2020, The Westin Westminster, Denver
All Upcoming Live Events
Upcoming Webinars
Webinar Archive
Partner Perspectives - content from our sponsors
Challenges & Key Issues of Constructing 'MEC-Ready' 5G Bearer Networks for Carriers
By Dr. Song Jun, Senior Solution Architect, Huawei Datacom Product Line
Good Measures for 5G Service Assurance
By Tomer Ilan, Senior Director of Product Management, RADCOM
Automation Scores Against Operational Costs – The Business Benefits of Automation and Orchestration
By John Malzahn, Senior Manager, Service Provider Product Marketing, Cisco Systems
All Partner Perspectives