5G is coming. CSPs have started to transition to a cloud-native network architecture that breaks the mold of today’s centralized, monolithic networks and introduces an end-to-end distributed cloud.
It’s much more than a simple tech transition. It’s a lot more involved than, say, deploying new equipment for better performance, or to support new use cases.
To unlock the benefits of 5G and of cloud-native, distributed architectures, CSPs need to learn how to run networks that are more flexible and powerful, but also inherently more complex and dynamic. To succeed, they need to fundamentally change their approach to deploy and run their networks. This will require both operational and cultural change.
Why move to a distributed cloud?
Most CSPs understand the benefits of a distributed cloud, which enables them to position network functionality where it’s most needed and most cost-effective, while maximizing network and service performance.
In a distributed architecture, the cloud is everywhere. CSPs continue to have a centralized cloud, but they also have regional and edge clouds. They continue to use private clouds, but they expand their use of public clouds.
A distributed cloud makes it possible for CSPs to cost-effectively support many of the new 5G use cases. It enables CSPs to keep the latency low, to manage services and traffic more efficiently, to increase reliability and security, and to roll out services more quickly. More specifically, the edge cloud gives CSPs a powerful tool to deploy IoT, IIoT and other enterprise location-based services affected by latency, mission criticality, data storage, or similar distance-sensitive factors.
The flexibility and power of the distributed cloud comes at a cost
The more distributed the cloud is, the more complex it is to deploy, operate, monitor, update and optimize. There are more elements and more interactions among them to manage. There is greater scope for optimization, but also more choices to be made and more parameters to set.
Furthermore, the distributed cloud is embedded in a more dynamic 5G network, which has to coexist with legacy networks and has to support a wider set of use cases — some with stronger latency, reliability, and security requirements. 5G networks require real-time optimization and monitoring, frequent upgrades and quick new service rollouts. All this must propagate to all the cloud locations, not just the few that operators need today.
CSPs cannot escape the increased complexity if they want to move to the distributed cloud as part of their 5G strategy. But they can successfully manage this complexity and benefit from it.
DevOps comes to the rescue
DevOps is the ally CSPs need as they move to the distributed cloud in 5G networks. It is a way to manage technology within the CSP and its vendor partners, reducing the time it takes to implement 5G in a commercial network. DevOps creates a fast, continuous and reliable lifecycle in environments where software development practices have become highly dynamic and complex.
DevOps encourages staff to abandon established, highly repetitive practices that may have served CSPs well in the past, but today are inefficient, wasteful, and unsuited to support the evolution to 5G and a distributed cloud. DevOps calls for a more interactive and flexible environment, in which automation, agility and efficiency free staff from repetitive and boring tasks. As they move out of their fixed legacy roles, the DevOps collaborative approach enables them to apply their valuable knowledge and experience to a more varied set of tasks.
What is there to gain?
By reducing the number of steps and automating them, DevOps makes software updates and technology upgrades faster and reduces their complexity. Nokia estimates that with DevOps, CSPs can reduce the number of steps from commitment to live operations for a software release by 60%-75%. This makes CSPs better equipped to manage the smaller but more frequent (every one or two weeks) software releases that have started to replace major ones (once or twice a year).
Faster and simpler software lifecycle management also accelerates the introduction or enhancements of services to meet customers’ needs and improve the network efficiency. CSPs may be able to deploy a new service in a matter of hours or days, rather than months.
Break down the silos, create a wider collaborative environment
Successful adoption of DevOps requires a deep cultural change within an organization, for both CSPs and vendors. Traditional barriers that create silos need to be broken down. Teams will need to be supported through incentives from top management. Staff must be encouraged to reach out and work more closely with colleagues in other teams.
The shift goes beyond the organization itself. Continuous change requires also a tighter, more trustful and collaborative relationship between CSPs and their vendor partners, and the ability to share DevOps practices, so they can be in sync as they continue to roll out new technologies and services.
With automation, agility, efficiency and reliability, DevOps introduces a continuous delivery, deployment, monitoring and optimization model in wireless networks that CSPs need in their digital transformation journey.