Got containers? The increasing momentum in container technology— also known as “microservices”—is now starting to top pick up interest among service providers.
The topic popped up in numerous places here at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress show, as service providers and technology providers touted the benefits of containers and microservices as a more efficient way to deliver applications. In particular, there is interest for more software and information systems in telecom networks such as operations support systems (OSS) and orchestration functions.
AT&T got some of the hype rolling a couple months ago, which gained attention in the industry, say several sources here. Andre Fuetsch, Senior Vice President of AT&T’s Domain 2.0 Architecture & Design, touted the benefits of container technology and microservices for telecom networks in his blog:
“Microservices allow you to connect across multiple containers the resources needed by the virtual network functions, when and where they need them. Pre-set policies allow those virtualized functions to activate additional containers in the cloud in just seconds to respond to point-in-time demand.”
Technology vendors are also jumping on board. Ciena announced on Tuesday that microservices and containers would serve as the foundation in its next generation of Blue Planet, the network orchestration and management platform. Ciena says this will allow service providers to move to more agile, “DevOps” style software development.
Ciena also points out that next-generation telecom systems need to be more flexible. Container technology can also help networks become more interoperable.
“The combination of microservices with open source has the potential to break down the vendor interlock,” said Ciena EMEA CTO Joe Marsella in a keynote on Wednesday.
Container technology allows software to be distributed across a network or data-center in small packages—the “container” part—and share operating system resources, rather than requiring regular software updates or a virtual machine for each instance of the software. Some techies refer to it as “OS-level virtualization.” The container and microservices paradigm can be thought of as small software packages that can travel around the network and talk to each other on a more real-time basis.
This can help with scalability, especially with network functions virtualization (NFV), wherein thousands of virtual machines (VMs) might have to be created to scale up a service. Container-baser software and microservices can be distributed to run on top of a shared operating system, without requiring a virtual machine.
Containers might first gain traction in upper layers of the telecom software—for example, operations and support systems (OSS) or services orchestration—because they are better for dynamic software upgrades and real-time data exchange (such as real-time billing, monitoring, or configuration information.)
Some service-provider leaders here confirmed that containers are being looked at for the delivery and development of certain kinds of telecom applications and software.
“Everybody is looking at containers,” said Axel Clauberg, Vice President, Aggregation, Transport, IP (CTO-ATI) and Fixed Access (CTO-FIA) Architecture at Deutsche Telekom AGDT, when I asked him about the technology this week.
“What’s the reason? If you do everything based on VMs [virtual machines], you run into scalability problems on a single host, ” said Clauberg. “It’s a toolbox—container is one form [of tool] and VMs are another.”
The Linux Foundation hosts two groups, the Open Container Initiative and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation. Key cloud operators, telecom operators, and network technology providers have joined these initiatives including Amazon, AT&T, Cisco, Google, Oracle, Verizon, and VMware.
Other technologists agreed and had their own view on containers.
Ian Hood, a senior architect with Cisco’s Service Provider Business, said containers definitely have a place in telecom networks.
“We have found some challenges with virtualization,” he said. “Will containers solve some different ones? We’re in the early stages of that. It will live first in traditional applications before it lives in network.”
Of course, it’s not like containers are a new story. Microservices are been around for more than a decade. But the model is newer to telecom than the data-center world. As many things data-center driven, the microservices approach first gained momentum in the open source and hyperscale data center world. Google, which is a pioneer of many container tools including Kubernetes, has been a big proponent of the technology. Last spring, Google’s Urs Hölzle, senior vice president of technology architecture, told the crowd at the Interop show that containers will rule the cloud.
It makes sense that container technology will follow in the footsteps of virtualization, which first appeared in hyperscale data centers before making its way to telecom networks, which it is just now gaining traction.