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Harnessing the Edge: Why telco providers should consider a horizontal platform approach

horizontal platform

As technology evolves towards containers and cloud-native architectures and applications, there are key architectural considerations for communications service providers (CSPs) to address

5G is accelerating deployments of edge computing, as communications service providers (CSPs) look forward to re-modeling their network infrastructure and adding capacity to their networks as well as adding new services. As technology evolves towards containers and cloud-native architectures and applications, there are important architectural considerations to be addressed by the CSPs.

The case for edge

There are three important use cases when it comes right down to 5G:

  1. Increased mobile broadband for consumers who are consuming ever-increasing amounts of data;
  2. IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, and
  3. Communications where maximum reliability and low latency are required, for example applications for self-driving cars and remote surgery. As service providers scale to meet the demands of more users and new bandwidth-hungry applications, there is a need for compute power that sits close to the end user (on edge).

The advantages of edge computing for operators are many, and involve zero-touch provisioning, automation, and multi-cluster management, capable of managing large-scale edge deployments, as well as smaller footprint for better utilization of physical resources. However, edge computing is not a strategy in itself; it needs to be part of a broader hybrid cloud strategy.

Open hybrid cloud allows service providers to onboard any workload on any footprint (whether private cloud, public cloud, virtualized or bare metal) to all locations, from the main data centre to the edge server. To meet the needs of these various scenarios, an edge computing solution must support hybrid workloads of containers, virtual machines (VMs), and AI/ML workloads in the microservices architectures, involving orchestration and consistent management. If the edge were to be managed separately at hundreds of sites, operations would become chaotic and complex.

Service providers need to manage their different edge sites in the same way they would manage the rest of their locations in the network, which means that the edge is perceived as a natural extension of the hybrid cloud. Open hybrid cloud deployment gives much needed consistency in the technology ecosystem – from edge devices to networks to centralised data centres, helping organisations deliver on the operational excellence they are striving for.

The easy approach to cloud-native application development is the next step required to enable service providers to achieve better overall functionality to rapidly deliver services to end users and make sure optimum performance of applications. This involves careful consideration of design when implementing a cloud platform.

The case for a horizontal platform approach

A container-based core will enable CSPs to provide cloud-native 5G networks, with containerised networking apps and modular microservices to offer the opportunity to dynamically orchestrate and grow network service capacity across distributed architectures. However, when it comes to implementing a containerised cloud platform, service providers need to decide whether to use a different type of infrastructure in main locations and a different one in distributed sites (a vertical solutions approach), or whether to use a horizontally integrated cloud in both core and distributed sites.

An open horizontal cloud is one in which a service provider’s applications are built and distributed on a common platform, independent of the underlying hardware, and therefore adaptable and flexible to the network architecture, from the cell site to the mobile edge. Instead of vertical silos, where applications are specific to a vendor, network and user functions are edge-connected and scalable via horizontal cloud platforms, better positioned CSPs to generate better performance and cost efficiencies.

Performance

Containers are portable in a hybrid environment. Using a horizontal cloud, performance can easily be more optimized in real-time, due to the superior ability to move applications to different locations in a network according to situational changes. For example, at a large stadium, a sporting event may require lower latency temporarily at that location for applications to provide a seamless end user experience. The horizontal cloud’s premise enables operators to more easily shift workloads closer to the end-user (e.g. the edge at or next to the stadium) for better latency and lower bandwidth needs towards the core.

Cost

Platforms that are horizontally integrated can also reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) compared to silo-based, vertically integrated deployments. Horizontal platforms allow applications to easily automate, while the vertical alternative requires more tools, processes and is more likely to lock service providers into one vendor offering. The multi-vendor approach gives providers more flexibility and allows them to benefit from an accessible, smartly distributed ecosystem.

When it comes to operating expenses, vertically integrated deployments require the design and running of separate infrastructure silos according to how many software vendors are being used. Whereas according to a recent ACG Research analyst paper, sponsored by Red Hat, with a horizontal approach communications service providers can halve the engineering, planning and management expenses, cut the cost of securing multiple silos by a third, as well as saving on multiple software licenses. This reduces the total cost of ownership by as much as 30%.

Common challenges

The benefits of horizontally integrated infrastructure are clear, so why are some communications service providers shy to move away from silo-based operations? One reason is that, as edge computing strategies became available, a number of companies prematurely tried to adopt a horizontal approach. Cloud platforms were not fully optimized at the time to function efficiently in the space, so vertical strategies were adopted as a reliable alternative. This has resulted in some service providers feeling stuck with a vertical platform strategy. And for those unfamiliar with horizontal cloud integrations, using multiple vendors may seem a complex venture. However, it is worth taking the time to understand how to build a more open, collaborative architecture, since the end result is more flexible, scalable, efficient and adaptable to performance needs.

As telco providers make strategic and structural innovations to improve the scalability, speed and performance of their network services, many are at a crossroads as they consider their options for edge architecture. By embracing an open hybrid cloud model that’s horizontally integrated across both core and distributed sites, CSPs will be able to manage, execute and automate the applications needed to run these solutions efficiently and cost-effectively across deployment environments. This lays the foundation for future services and business innovation.

About Author: Timo Jokiaho, Chief Technologist - Global Telco Ecosystem, Red Hat (www.RedHat.com)

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