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5G mobile broadband network operators encounter challenges on a number of various levels due to the nature of their large-scale, complex, dynamic, and highly distributed infrastructure requirements. There are many requirements for managing 5G services ranging from radio tower and network operations, to managing multi-layer software applications, to meeting strict specifications for latency and network performance of their applications and infrastructure. And lastly, operators require flexibility to relocate services motivated by performance optimization and increasing operational efficiencies.
The 5G architectures need to be services-based with hundreds and thousands of network services in the form of VNFs (Virtual Network Functions) or CNFs (Container Network Functions) that are deployed in geographically distributed remote environments.
Kubernetes is able to tackle a portion of this challenge by managing CNFs, however it does have several limitations in terms of managing 5G services across distributed locations with stringent latency and performance requirements.
Let us take a closer look into the top five technical considerations and how to best optimize Kubernetes for 5G deployments.
1. Virtual Networking Functions (VNFs) and Container Network Functions (CNFs) must coexist
By 2024, 5G is expected to handle 25 percent of all mobile traffic which will, in turn, drive faster adoption and deployment of CNF's. But, because a vast majority of current networks still continue to rely on VNFs, VNFs and CNFs must be co-managed. This can create inefficient and expensive siloed management of VNFs, CNFs and 5G sites.
A smart solution to addressing these inefficiencies is to run both VNFs and CNFs deploying Kubernetes as the infrastructure control fabric, which functions as the VIM layer in the MANO stack. Using KubeVirt, an open-source project that enables VMs to be managed by Kubernetes alongside containers, operators can standardize on the Kubernetes VIM layer eliminating the operational silos. This eliminates the need to port all of the applications to containers or managing two entirely separate stacks — the best of both worlds.
2. 5G telco operators running large environments with combinations of bare metal, VNFs, and CNFs need a simpler, self-service, automated, remote operating model.
Bare metal orchestration requires manual steps and increases the likelihood of errors. A large-scale 5G network roll-out involves thousands of access layer sites, hundreds of aggregate sites, and possibly dozens of core data centers. All of these sites have bare-metal servers. The sheer quantity of manual steps involved, the complexity of prerequisite knowledge required, and the risks associated with server downtime, and the large number of 5G sites, make it difficult to manage and operate bare metal servers efficiently. Consider partnering with a platform provider that brings cloud agility to bare metal infrastructure providing a centralized pane of management for all distributed 5G locations.
3. Configuring and operating high-performance networking options, a necessity for 5G deployments, is difficult
IPv6 is a must-have for 5G deployments as the current IPv4 standard does not offer sufficient IP addresses as the number of endpoints from mobile devices, IoT sensors and nodes that 5G will interconnect will exceed billions in the next few years. Find automated ways to remotely configure and customize advanced networking settings.
4. Latency sensitive CNFs do not support standard resource scheduling
Latency-critical CNFs need guaranteed access to CPU, memory, and network resources. Pod scheduling algorithms in Kubernetes are based on enabling efficient CPU resource utilization and multi-tasking. However, the negative consequence of this is non-deterministic performance, making it unsuitable for latency-sensitive CNFs. A solution to this problem is to “isolate” or “pin” a CPU core or a set of CPU cores such that the scheduler can provide pods exclusive access to those CPU resources, resulting in more deterministic behavior and ability to meet latency requirements.
5. Consistent, central management of 5G sites is key to success
It's difficult to deploy, manage, and upgrade hundreds or thousands of distributed 5G sites that need to be managed with low or no touch. Each 5G site, such as radio towers, access layer, or core data centers runs its own worker nodes and containers. Additionally, troubleshooting issues and keeping all the services up to date is an ongoing operational nightmare, especially when there are hundreds of these services deployed at each site.
Look to solutions providers who can provide a single sign-on for distributed infrastructure locations; cluster profiles to ensure consistency of deployment across large number of clusters and customers; centralized management of tooling, APIs, and app catalog to simplify application management at scale; and lastly, cluster monitoring and fully-automated Day-2 operations such as upgrades, security patching, and troubleshooting.
While some of these considerations pose challenges in the short-term, with the right infrastructure and approach Kubernetes can be integral to building successful 5G implementations.