Three fundamentals of a cloud-native infrastructure strategy

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Best practices for using Kubernetes in the telco cloud from a telco cloud architect

Scalability is the essential feature of any cloud native service: computing power, storage, memory and other factors are deployed at scale as needed. The telco cloud is no different, said Neil McRae. Beyond the scalable entity is the network itself. Neil is Group Chief Architect Managing Director, Architecture and Technology Strategy at BT. Being cloud-native means more than just containerizing an app and orchestrating it over Kubernetes, he said.

“My team might disagree, but I know what I’m talking about when it comes to building infrastructure,” he joked.

McRae outlined some fundamentals for a Kubernetes-based cloud-native telecoms infrastructure with Viavi CTO Sameh Yamany during a fireside chat at RCR Wireless News Telco Cloud Forum 2022.

BT’s network is designed to deliver services at scale, McRae said. “Voice, television, broadband, cellular,” McRae said. He described them as “at the heart of everything we do”.

“In the new cloud-native world, we’re seeing many types of solutions to these four key…core capabilities, and we’re seeing them being treated like pets,” he said.

Network functions are livestock, not pets

What does animal husbandry have to do with the cloud? Pets get special treatment and a soft bed in the house to sleep on. Cattle and other livestock are moved en masse. Network functions need to be thought of more like cattle and less like pets.

Applications ported to the cloud may only be partially native, McRae explained, severely limiting their scalability. App bottlenecks include vendor-bound deployment scripts, incomplete abstraction from infrastructure, and decomposing applications into functions rather than true cloud-native infrastructure. Partial automation is another hurdle.

“If we really want to think about cloud native, the big driver is…automation,” McRae said. The only way to build network capabilities is simply not scaling to the cloud-native world, he said.

The four pillars of cloud-native infrastructure

Disclosure, security, lifecycle at scale, and interface and service mesh form the “four pillars” of BT’s Kubernetes app strategy within the telco cloud. The exposure starts with API (Application Programming Interface) gateways, access controls and fleet management.

“The world is moving toward full application abstraction,” said McRae.

Security is key, especially given the scope of the services, as are issues like hardening and regulatory compliance.

“There are potentially billions of individual components in a cloud-native infrastructure,” he said.

In the third pillar, lifecycle management, the build engine is managed.

“Observability is really important,” McRae said. “Is everything working as it should? and can you see it If you can’t, how do you know it will work?”

The fourth pillar, interface and service mesh, is also related to observability, McRae said. “Different infrastructures have different interfaces, plug-ins to each other,” he said.

Large-scale containerization requires consistency

Vendor-specific container apps can present several challenges to telcos, starting with their security posture, limited operational visibility, potential dependencies on other libraries and apps, and patch status.

“My challenge for vendors is security and software version and making sure all software is running at the latest patch level,” he said.

BT has its own process to ensure every app touching the telco cloud passes the test.

“We put them through our own filter, if you will,” he said. BT signs all software images and integrates with its own logging and monitoring tools.

“So we’re going from a country of domestic animals to a world of cattle,” McRae said. “And we’re really good at managing these cattle.”

Ultimately, this is all work in progress for BT and for everyone at the company. McRae acknowledges that BT’s journey to the telco cloud is still in its infancy and that some of the underlying technologies for its use are still fairly new.

“It is still early. Kubernetes is not yet ten years old and already rules the world.”

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