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From Virtualization to ContainerizationFrom Virtualization to Containerization

A new set of NFV challenges is emerging as operators plan the shift towards cloud-native applications and a container-based strategy.

James Crawshaw

October 21, 2019

2 Min Read
From Virtualization to Containerization

After seven years of trying, the telecom industry is still struggling to get to grips with network functions virtualization (NFV).

The latest initiative to facilitate NFV adoption, the Common NFVI Telco Taskforce (CNTT), combines the efforts of the Linux Foundation, the GSMA, ETSI and a number of Tier 1 operators. Yet even this initiative is seen by some as trying to fix a fundamentally broken model and some industry commentators are writing NFV's obituary.

Before the telecom industry has got to grips with "step one" virtualization, many industry leaders are already moving on to the next level -- containerization. This is a key part of making network software cloud-native i.e. designed, developed and optimized to exploit cloud technology such as distributed processing and data stores.

Cloud-native applications combine existing and new software development patterns. Existing patterns include software automation (infrastructure and systems), API integrations and services-oriented architectures. The new patterns include microservices architecture, containerized services and distributed management/orchestration.

A microservices architecture involves breaking an application into loosely coupled elements whose dependencies are explicitly described. Each microservice can be updated independently, which allows more frequent and rapid updates (key to CI/CD). Programmers can work in parallel on each microservice, simplifying software development. And for the network operator, each microservice can be independently scaled, which enables greater resource utilization.

Microservices are packaged into containers, which are dynamically managed with a central orchestrator (typically Kubernetes). Containers leverage modern Linux kernel primitives, such as control groups and namespaces, to provide similar resource allocation and isolation features as those provided by virtual machines (VMs), but with much greater portability and much less overhead -- each application runs directly on the host OS with no need for a guest operating system.

At the recent Open Networking Summit in Antwerp, the director of technology strategy and architecture at Vodafone, Matt Beal, said more than 30% of the network functions Vodafone is using are cloud-ready today, and this will reach 50% by March 2020. The industry overall is further behind, and in the OSS/BSS space most applications in use today are far from cloud native.

At Light Reading's Software Driven Operations summit in London on November 5, panelists will share their learnings from the journey from virtualization to containerization, the challenges they face and how they plan to overcome them. We will discuss if operators need to wait for applications to be rearchitected as microservices or if they can get some benefit from running existing applications in containers and orchestrating them with Kubernetes. We will also discuss the operational complexity of the move to containerization and what operators are doing to prepare.

Join us at the Software Driven Operations summit to learn more about this important new industry trend.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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About the Author(s)

James Crawshaw

Principal Analyst, Service Provider Operations and IT, Omdia

James Crawshaw is a contributing analyst to Heavy Reading's Insider reports series. He has more than 15 years of experience as an analyst covering technology and telecom companies for investment banks and industry research firms. He previously worked as a fund manager and a management consultant in industry.

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