For network resiliency, telcos should take a multi-cloud approach

Analyst Opinion, Inderpeet Kaur & James Crawshaw

Telcos are increasingly moving towards multi-cloud environments that give them the flexibility to move workloads between public clouds and their own private clouds.

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The role of public cloud in the telecommunications industry echoed as a key theme across multiple keynote sessions during Network X in Amsterdam this October. The event (which combined Broadband World Forum, 5G World and Telco Cloud) brought together a range of topics including next-gen access technologies, 5G monetization, private networks, and cloud-native networking under a single roof.   

Telecom operators have been engaging with public cloud providers, often referred as hyperscalers, for many years now. The nature of partnerships between the two ranges from the cloudification of network infrastructure to the broader goal of digital transformation. Adding to the telco-hyperscaler dynamics are sell-through opportunities with joint go-to-market and value co-creation for enterprise customers and industry verticals.

Telcos’ journey to public cloud, particularly for network workloads, is constrained by strict latency, throughput, and resiliency requirements. Additionally, they must consider data confidentiality, integrity, sovereignty, and availability. To address these issues, telcos are increasingly moving toward multi-cloud environments that give them the flexibility to move workloads between public clouds and their own private clouds.


Multi-cloud offers flexibility to run workloads in any environment

In addition to hosting IT and network workloads in the cloud, telcos are seeking to leverage the cloud to deliver new services. Some of these require workloads to be geographically distributed across multiple sites. Others can be run more simply from a centralized location. As such, there is no single approach to telco cloud—a multi-cloud approach is required.

Multinational operator Telenor showcased its experience with cloud transformation during one of the keynote sessions at Network X. The Telenor Hybrid Cloud (THC), which has evolved over the last five years, takes a “public cloud first, private cloud if needed” approach to hosting IT applications. In contrast, most virtualized or containerized network functions are currently run in private cloud.

Dr. Pal Gronsund, Chief Cloud Platform Architect with Telenor, noted the challenges in running 5G core functions in public cloud included traffic costs associated with elements such as the User Plane Function (UPF), and specific technical challenges such as network tapping and load balancing. He also highlighted security challenges with moving from public to private cloud, including the need for a model that allows for different levels of security controls across private and public cloud instances to reduce cost and complexity.

In his presentation, Gronsund explained how over the next several years, Telenor will migrate from the current approach, THC, to the Telenor Multi-Cloud. This will offer a coherent cloud infrastructure that eases management and orchestration of diverse workloads across heterogenous environments.  Network functions, IT applications, and customer applications will run on a mix of private and public clouds, both centralized and at the edge. Applications will be cloud-native, and increasingly consumed as a service.

Managing multi-cloud requires new capabilities

Telcos aiming to benefit from multi-cloud environments must think about workload placement, workload operations, and workload portability. Operators should be able to choose the right cloud environment for each workload, move workloads across different clouds as business requirements evolve, and be able to autonomously monitor and manage workloads and infrastructure. Achieving multi-cloud portability requires decoupling workload deployment procedures and lifecycle management from specific cloud technologies and physical sites.

During Network X, Telefonica shared its approach to implementing multi-cloud environments. Telefonica’s head of network virtualization, Francisco-Javier Ramón, highlighted the need to deploy cloud-agnostic tools to manage multiple clusters from different providers that are running on different cloud stacks (e.g., Azure, Red Hat, and VMware). Telefonica combines this multi-cluster management (MCM) system (which it describes as a single point for container environment creation and configuration) with a multi-cloud management and orchestration (MANO) system that provides a single point for VNF and CNF deployment. MANO and MCM are in turn controlled or fed by north-bound systems such as an end-to-end service orchestrator and a continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline.


Key telco cloud takeaways from Network X

Moving network workloads to the cloud (private on premise, public with hyperscalers, and combinations of the two at the edge) is proving a challenge for telecom operators. One size does not fit all applications; the optimal cloud choice will depend on throughput, latency, and data privacy requirements, as well as the variability of the workload, geographical constraints, and cost efficiency. Operating with such diverse requirements requires a coherent multi-cloud strategy that can simplify deployment and operation. If cloud-based networks are to be resilient, then arguably they must be multi-cloud.