To borrow a phrase from Leo Tolstoy, “if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content.” For telcos grappling with network upgrade complexities, it is a maxim that rings increasingly true.
In the past, when operators first contemplated virtualising infrastructures and adopting software-defined networks (SDNs), many were tempted to pursue a ‘best of breed’ strategy whereby they deployed standalone systems (with independent software modules) to manage each function. It was an idealistic approach, but one that now seems out of step with the times.
Unfortunately, managing the lifecycle of multiple software systems with the same level of supportability is a big challenge. Even ensuring full interoperability in virtualised networks is proving a technical headache. This is exactly why a ‘best of breed’ strategy can soon lead to expensive operational complexity and potential paralysis.
It is also important to remember that using multiple different virtual machines introduces latency, which makes the network less deterministic for end-users. In the 5G era, the ability to maintain deterministic low latency is an unavoidable must-have.
As a result, some operators are refocusing efforts to embrace a ‘best of suite’ approach in which they deploy a consolidated set of virtual functions/solutions, rather than trying to stitch together a diversity of products. Many are now discovering that the use of a unified platform can dramatically simplify network services delivery in both virtualised and traditional network environments.
Example from the field
Rakuten Mobile, an innovative operator in Japan and the US, exemplifies this new way of working. Recently, it integrated an extensive suite of application security and traffic management systems into the highly virtualised and cloud native Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). Described as a next generation “operator enabling platform,” RCP is now available to telcos and large enterprises around the world.
A key element of the platform is the use of F5 Networks Intelligent Traffic Management for four key functions:
- Virtualised carrier-grade NAT (network address translation)
- IP traffic optimisation system
- Secure DNS (Domain Name System) caching
- Gi Firewall
By consolidating the Gi-LAN infrastructure, which sits between the evolved packet core and an internet gateway, Rakuten Mobile can simplify and optimize service orchestration. What's more, in addition to benefiting from all functions, it has also been able to significantly cut operating costs. All without sacrificing performance, security, and agility.
A consolidated platform simply performs better than a collection of separate systems. That is why Rakuten’s quest to simplify and consolidate also leverages F5’s app delivery and security capabilities. These include a firewall, an intrusion prevention system, and other functionalities such as NAT64, NAT46 and ADC.
Ultimately, the 'best of suite' route eliminates a lot of the complexities and costs of integrating, as well as maintaining, multiple functions and operating systems into the higher layer orchestration system.
Rakuten isn’t the only telco to reach this conclusion. Other operators, particularly in highly competitive European markets, are also following suit(e). For example, one of our telco customers recently found that using that a single virtual network function (VNF) instance for Gi-LAN services resulted in a 60% reduction in the total cost of ownership of the underlying computing infrastructure.
Adapting to the times
The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic have further strengthened the case for prioritizing ‘best of suite’ deployments. Faced with mostly remote working resources, many telcos no longer have the luxury of going through complex functional testing, interoperability, integration, and lifecycle management. A 'best of suite' strategy will drive more automation, easier provisioning, and less complex upgrades. Furthermore, it will generally result in a more robust architecture that is better able to manage traffic spikes.
In today's ever-changing world, outcome based operational pragmatism and simplification—rather than the ostensible perfectionism of a best in class technology line-up—are fast becoming pivotal for telcos that are evolving to fully virtualized infrastructures.
Alix Leconte, F5 - 26 November 2020
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VP EMEA Service Providers at F5 Networks
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