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Orchestration in Telcos: the multi-vendor and multi-cloud environments…

The use of NFV migration is becoming commonplace, it is made apparent there is a need for a higher degree of software management, smoother upgrades, and deployment process. Due to the complexity of the migration, Telcos have been deterred from adoption. A solution should be out there to aid businesses in managing and deploying network automation, orchestration, and managed services.

In general, a telco network is complex and needs to be managed using multiple perspectives. For a proper deployment, a pure Open Source approach would require a great deal of work to be put in, however, commercial deployment of MANO stacks provided by vendors again raises the “vendor lock-in” question. 

Another problem faced by telcos is that after investing a lot into creating cloud services, telecom operators are unable to create a solid product to sell. With the right orchestration solution, telcos can market a pre-packaged solution and use APIs to extend the platform to meet their needs.

Orchestration Challenges:

Management and network orchestration (MANO) stack monitors and manages the necessary resources and networks needed to set up the NFV services and applications. NFVO (NFV Orchestrator) supports onboarding new network services (NS) and VNF packages, NS lifecycle management, resource management, and authorization of NFVI resource requests.

Figure 1: MANO responsibilities

Indeed, MANO is a crucial stack used to enhance the deployment of NFV and while many challenges faced by orchestration can be resolved by following the characteristics mentioned in the next section, some core challenges still exist and efforts are redirected by some of the orchestration communities.  

  1. Multi-vendor workloads requirements: A MANO stack should provide a generic VNFM (Virtual Network Function Manager) and support incorporating specific VNFMs from the different NFV vendors. While there have been several implementations of these stacks, open-source and commercial, ETSI OSM (Open Source MANO) is quite near to completing the objectives.
  2. Lack of open source support and standardization: Solving the challenge of multi-vendor implementations, telcos tend to move towards open source solutions. However, this imposes another challenge of lack of enterprise support which includes risks in production deployments. Also, resource and service orchestration is a responsibility shared between the NFVO, the VNFM, and the VIM. Due to this, different implementation standards are caused by the lack of distinct boundaries resulting in incompatibility. 
  3. Manual onboarding processes: Critical telecommunication networks cannot afford downtime and manual deployments of workloads after any failure. Orchestration tools are not intelligent enough to predict and perform automated onboarding actions according to the network situations. 
  4. Market fragmentation: The MANO framework does not define a fixed functional specification for APIs yet, hence software products following the framework will not necessarily be compatible at the API level with the existing solutions. 
  5. Security management raises distinct challenges to NFV. The benefit of physical appliances is that they can be turned off and replaced if necessary but there is no such mechanism for NFV management software. The MANO framework needs to incorporate security management even if there are no predefined specifications.
  6. Infrastructure Diversity: Telco workloads are diverse in nature with multiple infrastructure needs. A number of nodes need to be deployed in order to provide particular network service and these nodes can be virtualized, physical, or containerized in nature which sometimes becomes challenging to support by a single orchestrator. 
Figure 2: Orchestration challenges in Telcos

Choosing the right orchestration solution:

Orchestration will allow telcos to quickly and easily increase the variety and number of products they offer. It will also prevent them from diverting their attention from selling solutions wrapped with value-added services. Telecom operators need multiple resources such as multi-hypervisor, infrastructure blueprints, etc., and the solution that best fits the requirements should have:

  1. Multiple infrastructure support:  The orchestrator needs to support the management and automation of multiple infrastructures e.g virtualized or cloud-native infrastructures like OpenStack or Kubernetes etc according to the functionalities they need to perform. 
  2. Workload density: The ability to support higher workload density on the same infrastructure will allow better infrastructure utilization and hence reduce the OPEX
  3. Automation and Dynamic Resource Management: Possibility of automation based on network KPI’s so it can scale according to the functionality needs. The automation of dynamic scaling and managing resources is critical to the success of NFV. SON (Self-organizing network) solutions need to be able to control workloads resources in order to provide AI/ML-driven, network-wide automation. OSM helps in automated deployment and the required day-2 operations for the workloads, while also exposing SON-friendly APIs.
  4. Multi-Vendor Environments: A common ground for multi-vendor environments will provide standardization and ease of deployment.
  5. Workload and Application Templates: The ability to create workload and application templates for reuse in separate requests can accelerate service turnup and improve efficiencies.
  6. Role-based Access: Role-based access for the provider’s teams, as well as customer personnel, is critical for enforcing the permissions for what a person is authorized.
  7. Support and standardization: A standard template should be followed as there are multiple network functions of varying functionalities used within the same solution. Templates can accelerate the deployments of these functions.
  8. Integration with the external monitoring tools for the closed-loop operations support. These are a few of the essentials that should be included in a cloud orchestration solution. However, supporting easy integration like Juju with third-party technologies is vital with rising competition.

Orchestration is the answer to reducing the complexity of NFV migration and motivating more operators in its adoption. While many challenges can be resolved by the flexibility provided by the solution characteristics of orchestration, it also presents challenges of its own. You should be able to access the technologies that best fit your requirements and allowing for significant differentiation opportunities. 

MANO is essential to developing and enhancing NFV-related standards, an expansion and clarification of the MANO framework are needed. We believe, MANO will be a crucial part of NFV migration one day, an interesting journey is ahead to keep aligning these solutions with the Telcos DNA, challenges, and limitations. 

Onboarding Telco network functions

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