Cracking the cloud native network transition

Sue White, Head of Strategy, Netcracker, talks to TMN about the telco move to cloud native.

Operators that find it easier to get cloud capacity from public cloud than from their own internal platforms. Operators that lack in house cloud-ops skills. Operators that move to cloud platforms but don’t modernise the software in the functions they are running. Operators who aren’t sure if they want to commit to a SaaS model, and operators who need multi-cloud orchestration to manage multi-cloud workloads. There’s a lot going on.

Netcracker’s Sue White tells TMN how telcos are, or are not, making the cloud native transition.

This article is extracted from a fuller interview with White carried in TMN Quarterly Issue 32, the Cloud Native Telco issue. To read the full interview, and others in the issue, subscribe here.

Why are we seeing operators move to cloud native technology, and what steps are they taking?

The big thing is agility, needing to react fast to what’s going on in the market, and needing to take the cost out as well. And I guess, well, when you say cloud, one of the stalling points is which direction should they go in – their own telco cloud platforms or the hyperscalers? “Do we need to build our own because we’ve tried that in some cases, and it’s difficult.”

For example, one operator we were talking to recently, they moved to AWS but they also have their own telco cloud platforms. So we asked why don’t you use your own? And they said, well, it’s just difficult to go through our own internal processes to get enough capacity and to basically go through all the requests and requirements in a timely manner. It’s actually easier for us to work with hyperscalers.

A lot of the telcos don’t have the skill set. It’s difficult for them to do this in-house. And that’s why it takes them a long time to build their own platforms and to move fast

And it’s also the push on the vendors to have more cloud native software, because that’s been something that Netcracker has been doing for some years now. So that if they want to operate something, they don’t have to update everything, they can just update the piece that they need in the network. If they want to fix something, they can just update the small thing they need in the network. It’s being able to have that modular functionality and capability.

But it’s complex. I mean, the move to cloud is difficult. A lot of the telcos don’t have the skill set. It’s difficult for them to do this in-house. And that’s why it takes them a long time to build their own platforms and to move fast. So then that’s when the hyperscaler has become quite an attractive proposition. What we’re finding is many of them maybe put some workloads on the public cloud platforms and they’ll put some of their networkfacing workloads on the on their own platform.

The one we did recently –  that’s an SD-WAN project – is all running on AWS with our service orchestration for that, which does the automation.

One of the things that will get levelled at software vendors, especially, ones that have been around a while, is that you developed the software set a certain way. And that’s been the blocker, rather than the enabler for cloud native. So is there a sense that companies like yours have been slow to enable the telcos to take those steps?

I think, on the VNF  side, yes. That’s not where we play, but the VNF side of the business, it has been very sluggish, because it’s a huge change. And some of the VNFs, for example, are quite heavily tied to the platform that they run on. They might need hardware assist, for example, for performance reasons. And the vendors have been very reluctant to re-architect that and split it off. Even now you have a lot of VNFs out there but you don’t have many CNFS, it’s still a gradual process.

I think on the BSS OSS side things have been moving much faster. The requirements have been put on us for some time and we saw this coming anyway. So we’ve been already changing our development methodologies for quite some time – working in an agile development environment for many, many years now, and transitioning different parts of our software, from orchestration to all our OSS systems to all our BSS systems. So I’d certainly say that that transition has happened. So no we’ve not been, let’s say, the block.

Cloud software for cloud platforms

Also, some of the service providers decided to move some of their legacy systems to a cloud environment, not changing the applications at all and just moving them to a virtual machine and a cloud platform, and found that well, there’s not really that many benefits we can get from this. So a few of them went in that direction, and then decided that it just wasn’t working.

The cloud is one big change in terms of how you re-architect software. But it’s also a modernisation of that software too.

The software they were running was still legacy software, it wasn’t modernised. And actually that’s probably an important point, because the cloud is one big change in terms of how you re-architect software. But it’s also a modernisation of that software too, meaning it has a real time requirement.

A lot of the software capabilities that we had, for example, in OSS in the past didn’t have to be real time because your  services weren’t real time. For example, inventory didn’t need to be real time and now it does: if you don’t have real time inventory, you don’t know what’s in your network. And as services become more dynamic in the network, things change more and more rapidly, you need to be able to keep track of that.

Saas uncertainty

One big thing that we did recently is move to delivery as a SaaS model, which is unheard of before for telcos because they always want to own everything. They want to own their own software, they want to own their own network, all the bits and pieces. So now when they’re not just moving to a cloud platform like a hyperscaler platform, they’re even running it in a SaaS model with the vendor – they don’t own the software anymore. We’re responsible for that software, we’re responsible for the upgrades. And it takes away a big chunk of responsibility from them. But some of them are doing it, and some of them are not sure. Some believe it’s the right direction to go in, some don’t want to lose control.