Carrier DevOps, in essence a telecoms-specific approach to DevOps, enables operators to bring together their network knowledge with the product development ease of DevOps. Network slicing will be among the applications in which the accelerated and simplified development capability will be applied
DevOps, the accelerated mode of IT innovation, has been a reality for almost five years in the mainstream enterprise IT market and has been adopted by many over-the-top (OTT) providers. The telecoms industry has been less quick to adopt the DevOps concept in part because of the sheer complexity of telecoms operations. Now, as more IT-oriented network technologies, such as 5G and network functions virtualisation(NFV) are coming to market, the DevOps approach is starting to be applied to telecoms in order to enable faster development of services and network functions such as specific network slices in the 5G environment.
Telecoms remains a non-standard IT environment with highly specific and complex technical needs surrounding operation and management of the network. For this reason vendors are coming to market with telco-specific DevOps offerings. “We’ve introduced our Carrier DevOps for the vertical telecoms industry because, with 5G we’re not only focused on the traditional dumb pipe,” says Tu Jiashun, the principal scientist for the ZTE NFV/SDN solution. “We’re also focused on providing a end-to-end network slice together with a specific service logic for a typical vertical industry that could be software-based and run in the cloud. What’s exciting here is that an end-to-end slice can provide the connectivity a service requires and the service logic as well. This is why we have expanded on the DevOps concept with Carrier DevOps so the software-based network can be continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) and operators can introduce a just right network as a part of an end-to-end service environment .”
Tu goes on to explain further why standard DevOps needs to be augmented to be of greater value to telecoms operators. “Of course DevOps in IT is good but for telecoms some special requirements exist,” he adds. “The reliability, security, critical service level agreements (SLAs) and regulatory requirements are greater than IT DevOps is familiar with and the industry needs DevOps to be carrier-grade. Special communications components need to be encompassed along with the regulatory requirements in order for a carrier-grade DevOps service to be provided.”
A catalyst for the introduction of Carrier DevOps is the introduction of 5G. “5G services have very different requirements from other verticals – the finance, security and other fundamentals are quite different so 5G services need a special slice that can be set up very quickly and migrated to rapidly,” explains Tu. “Carrier DevOps can provide this with CI and CD. It can introduce a lot of components from multiple vendors including the radio access network (RAN), wireline access, core network , bearer network and value added service (VAS) logic and other OTT-like systems.”
“Operators need a typical environment to make investment into and introduce testing and sometimes, after testing has finished, they need to release the live product quickly and easily,” he says. “Then the product needs to be easy to configure and adapt so it can be continuously developed and all in a carrier-grade way. That’s why carrier-specific DevOps is so important.”
The specificity of telecoms demands on DevOps will only increase as new services, particularly those in the Internet of Things (IoT), come to market with different traffic profiles to traditional services. At the same time, the need to maximise capacity will see approaches such as network slicing widely utilised to dimension the network according to network attributes a service requires. Tu says ZTE is working with Tier 1 operator customers, including MTN and China Mobile, to address their specific requirements.
He gives the example of a water meter connected to IoT. “The bandwidth requirements of the meter are very low but the quality of the terminal, because of its expected service life, needs to be very high,” he says. “The service doesn’t need much bandwidth, the service is unaffected by latency and there doesn’t even need to be a continuous connection but the most important thing is to have a very economical ARPU. It needs to be 10 cents a month or less and, if it isn’t, it will be more economical in some countries to send a human walker to read the meter in the traditional way.”
A service such as this needs a small network slice in order to get just several bytes of data per month while also achieving very low cost for the customer. In contrast a connected car provider has very different requirements. The service needs to be always connected reliably and have very low latency but the bandwidth itself isn’t high.
“In this case, it’s the latency that’s important. The bandwidth is not a big problem because the commands from traffic control centre are very light in bandwidth terms,” adds Tu. “This therefore is a very different network slice to provide low latency while also delivering guaranteed uptime,”
A final example is IPTV which has yet another demand profile to be expressed in a different network slice. “IPTV needs big bandwidth but latency is not so important because set top boxes can have a second or more of cached content so small latency doesn’t impact the user experience,” Tu explains. “In all these examples, a network slice can provide the most appropriate offer according to the service provision in the most economic and efficient way.”
The challenge for operators then is to have the developmental capability to continuously create and refine network slices so they are best dimensioned to support each service. Operators recognise the need for this telecoms-specific DevOps capability because it will be a critical foundation for new, revenue generating services they want to bring to market.
“Carrier DevOps is well on the way to becoming commercialised,” confirms Tu. “Together with China Telecom, for example, our DevOps platform which will enable it to initiate its own network slicing for 5G and to have special slices for specific services as shown in the demo Mobile World Congress in Shanghai 2017.”
“Having a carrier-grade DevOps platform gives more experience and knowledge to the operators,” he adds. “They need DevOps expertise and their network knowledge to come together to enable them to be successful. Carrier DevOps is on its way to the mainstream and will open up huge opportunities for operators to participate and compete in the new telecoms market.”