While DevOps started off slowly, it has changed gears now, rapidly transforming the business operations of every industry. When it comes to the Telecom industry, IT experts opined that DevOps adoption will be low compared to other verticals as telcos deal with physical servers, routers, load balancers, cables, switches and other network components. However, DevOps was able to make inroads into the Telecom industry as well.
VoIP, Cloud and 5G
VoIP and cloud computing solutions have taken the telecom industry to the next level. However, cloud computing also brought huge competition into the industry wherein mobile operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) had to look for value-added services implementing web services, HTTP/REST and webRTC protocols to sustain this competition. All these changes transformed the hardware-heavy infrastructure turns into a software-enabled environment, allowing administrators to manage it from a centralized location.
The arrival of the 5G technology has made a big difference too. While the earlier connectivity networks relied heavily on physical infrastructure, the new 5G technology is a predominantly software-defined network wherein configurations are delivered as software. The Network Functions Virtualization (VNF) technology virtualizes network hardware that can be deployed in containers using Virtual Network Functions (VNF) technology. Combining 5G and edge computing, telecom operators are now able to compete with web-scale companies such as Skype and WhatsApp.
Telecom Workloads Challenges
However, the IT workloads of the telecom vertical are unique and come with specific challenges. The Telecom industry involves complex workloads that require extensive infrastructure customization. For instance, the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) technology converts various switches, routers, servers, load balancers, firewalls etc. into virtual network services, facilitating communication across the infrastructure. It brings several cloud servers as well as multiple app versions into the picture. Unlike regular IT workloads that comparatively operate on a fixed infrastructure environment, telecom IT network environments are dynamic and rapidly evolving. A notable challenge is performing functional testing on VNF network models wherein all 3GPP elements are required. Performing regression testing for every RF software update adds up to this challenge.
When it comes to deployments, companies are required to frequently release new versions or fix patches on live networks. You don’t have the luxury of performing planned maintenance anymore. With the lifecycle of software abstracted away from the workloads, gaining a comprehensive overview of the entire operations is a challenge.
DevOps for Telecom Industry
DevOps helps telecom companies solve most of these challenges. Firstly, businesses can separate each network function into a microservice and easily package it into containers using a containerization tool such as Docker. These containers can be automatically deployed and easily moved across different environments. Clusters of containers can be efficiently managed by container orchestration tools such as Kubernetes. The modular architecture allows you to move elements between various NFV environments. Using Infrastructure as Code (IaC), businesses can deploy and manage the infrastructure using config files.
In addition to infrastructure deployment and management, DevOps helps telcos easily manage application delivery CI/CD pipelines. It helps developers to develop cleaner and bug-free code in smaller units and frequently update the VNF environments using automation tools. The continuous feedback loops monitor the code performance and deliver feedback regularly. As such, businesses can automate operations, reduce CapEx and gain faster time to market while delivering highly available, scalable and resilient network services. It enables seamless coordination between various Communication Service Providers (CSPs) as well.
The telecom infrastructure is a tough nut to crack for DevOps. However, taking advantage of its robust ecosystem comprising Microservices, Edge Computing, Disaggregated Networks, Infrastructure as Code (IaC), Continuous Delivery, Containerization, Monitoring, Automation etc., DevOps helps telecom companies successfully undergo deep digital transformation while keeping their operations future-proof.