Modern software development strategies for service providers are changing rapidly. One of the big changes is the introduction of a microservices architecture to the telco cloud. The telco cloud aims to take the cloud computing model into telecommunications infrastructure by building software that can run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware to deliver virtual network functions (VNFs).
A microservices architecture in the telco cloud aims to time to develop and deploy applications composed of independent, autonomous, and modular pieces of code. Rather than building software as a monolithic application, this means the application can be built as a distributed applications based on software components that work across the cloud.
Why Microservices Architecture in the Telco Cloud?
Like many modern computing and software strategies, the microservices architecture has origins in the webscale development world, where large providers such as Amazon, Google, and Netflix, for example, needed to build more scalable and distributed applications. This has the advantage of speeding up developing, testing, and deployment — and enabling software to be fixed on the fly, rather than awaiting a longer upgrade cycle. Linux containers and Docker are specific platforms for launching microservices.
Telco Software to Migrate to Microservices
Several large service providers including AT&T, BT, CenturyLink, and Telefonica — among others — have publicly embraced the the move to a microservices architecture in the telco cloud. AT&T has highlighted how microservices will play a role in their goal to virtualize 75% of their network by the year 2020. In addition, BT has announced that containers, a form of microservices, will be used to build out their network functions virtualization infrastructure.
Even though many service providers and telecom hardware and software vendors have talked about going to a microservices architecture, this trend is in its early stages. In order to be developed as microservices based applciations, many categories of software will have to be entirely rebuilt from the ground up.
However, some products are already coming to market. Some key telecommunications equipment suppliers, including Cisco and Ciena, are using microservices to implement some of their software. Ciena last year announced that its network virtualization and orchestration software, Blue Planet, is now built on a container-based micro-services architecture.
In addition, open-source initiatives are moving towards microservices and containers. The Linux Foundation hosts two groups, the Open Container Initiative and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, to help promote the use of container technology and microservices in the telecommunications world. Members include Amazon, AT&T, Cisco, Google, Oracle, Verizon, and VMware. Microservices are deployed using management platforms, of which Docker is a popular example, that communicate with each other using common code and application programming interfaces (APIs).
Service providers are looking to put microservices in the telco cloud as part of a larger mission to emulate the success of cloud services such as Amazon Web services (AWS), Netflix, and Twitter, all of which use microservices.
The attraction of using a microservices architecture is that applications can be tested in an iterative and distributed model, without taking applications offline. In the cloud world, large-scale applications have been developed, tested, and deployed with more agility using this distributed model. Network operators are looking to use microservices architectures to build a more agile model of software which could be used to improve customer service, boost resource utilization, and integrate with the other software and 3rd party applications .