Networks have been always like a backbone for the digital innovations since decades. Now we are in an era that the backbone -aka these networks- keeps evolving non-stop. So the evolution of networking is synonymous with innovation, and is transforming how we communicate, collaborate and conduct business. However as demands for scalability, agility and efficiency continue to rise, traditional networking approaches face limitations. Here the cloud comes in. A paradigm shift that has revolutionized how we design, architect and manage applications.
Cloud computing offers unparalleled scalability, elasticity and cost-effectiveness in order to change and optimize the networks. At the heart of this transformation lies the cloud-native principle, which is a set of methodologies focused on revealing the full potential of cloud environments basically. It comprises of containerization, microservice architecture, automation and dynamic orchestration to empower applications for the cloud.
Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNF): Transforming telecommunications and beyond
CNFs represent a revolutionary shift in telecom by using the power of cloud-native architectures with the existing networking functionalities which are classical network functions and virtual network functions (VNFs).
Traditional network functions are mostly hardware-based, monolithic appliances dedicated to specific networking tasks such as routing or switching. These physical devices have limited scalability, costly upgrades and additional hardware expansions. The management of these functions involves manual and time-consuming processes.
In contrast, virtual network functions (VNFs) represent a software-based solutions deployed on virtualized infrastructure. This allows for better scalability as needed. So VNFs offer improved flexibility by enabling easier updates and modifications. Their nature also allows for more efficient resource utilization by sharing hardware among multiple instances. Plus, automation improves lifecycle management, which is definitely a requirement for many complex networks.
Cloud-native network functions (CNFs) take this evolution further by embracing cloud-native principles with leveraging containerization and microservices architecture. CNFs are designed to operate in cloud environments using orchestration platforms like Kubernetes. Their containerized microservices-based approach offers scalability, flexibility and efficiency on rapid update needs and required service modifications. CNFs are also better in automation with CI/CD pipelines. So they can support much better seamless lifecycle management, agility and responsiveness in network architectures.
Key network applications and use cases
So what are examples for these use cases? Firstly, CNFs play a crucial role in the rollout of 5G networks. By virtualizing network functions, telcos are now able to achieve greater agility and cost-efficiency. For instance, Virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) and Virtual Radio Access Network (vRAN) are the examples for this case. Secondly, they enable the deployment of network functions at the edge. Like this way, the closer proximity to end-users enhances edge networking performance and responsiveness. Thirdly, service providers can implement network slicing to create virtualized and more independent networks over a shared physical infrastructure. This can allow more bandwidth and radio frequency spectrum for different mobile network operators (MNO/MVNO) even though separate services can be deployed on the same network equipment. Not last but least, with the help of CNFs, orchestration platforms can be implemented to manage and scale network functions easily. Service orchestration ensures optimal resource utilization and adaptability to variable demands.
These key use cases for future networks are advanced with the collaborative efforts of Cloud-Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) and the contributions of leading companies. By the collaboration among telecom vendors (like Argela), service operators and cloud providers (like AWS), the development of CNFs are continuing to enable seamless integration across diverse network infrastructures.
Consequently, this is a beginning of a journey of digital backbone from traditional static networks to dynamic cloud networks. And as the journey into the cloud era continues, the synergy between networking and cloud technologies promises a future where connectivity knows no bounds.