As operators embrace automation as a key element of their 5G strategies, they’re learning fast that DevOps is crucial to service development – and network slicing will play a bigger role than initially thought. These are the key takeaways from a panel session on October 15 at TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World Series where experts discussed their experience of implementing automation and where they think it’s going.
Everyone agreed that automation is crucial to rolling out 5G faster and at scale when it comes to things like backhaul capacity management. Meanwhile orchestration is key in simplifying and automating workflows to shorten time to market for new services.
Delivering on the vision
To realize that vision means making everything programmable, so software development pipelines have to be agile, fast and automated as much as possible. Consequently, DevOps principles of continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) are critical to any automation strategy, said Sireen Malik, Director of Automation Systems for the architecture division at T-Mobile.
“My team today produces software completely CI/CD,” he said. “If the communication between the end user, the developer and ops is taking weeks and months, that’s not going to work. If the frequency of interaction is hourly or daily, that’s DevOps right there.”
Arvinder S Anand, VP of Enterprise Architecture and E2E solutions at Ericsson, added that CI/CD is critical for 5G use cases because – unlike with 4G use cases, which were well understood – no one’s really sure yet which use cases will take off, and in many instances it will be determined by end users, not operators.
“So we need that framework which could accelerate these features into production quickly for better time to market,” Amand said. “The whole CI/CD pipeline will help to facilitate that. I always compare CI/CD with Android phone applications and how they get upgrades automatically. So imagine the day that operators will be adding fixes and features automatically.”
Slicing through the hype
Another lesson learned on the automation journey is that the hype over 5G’s network slicing capabilities isn’t really warranted – at least as a quality of service and class of service play.
Sana Tariq is senior architect for E2 Service Orchestration at TELUS. She argued that seeing network slicing as a way to provide dedicated bandwidth to match service level agreements (SLAs) for enterprise customers is legacy, circuit-switched thinking. She pointed out that this is fast becoming obsolete as the industry evolves to cloud native network architectures.
“In the public cloud, you can grow your applications on demand way faster than you could do in the past, and networking is becoming smarter with [software-defined networking] and service mesh technology,” she explained. “So it might become super-easy in the future to receive high-bandwidth, high-guaranteed SLAs without having to create a network slice.”
That’s why the real value in network slicing is what it can do for CI/CD pipelines, Tariq said.
Limiting the impact zone
She added, “[In DevOps], we are trying to limit the impact zone. We are trying to think small on each piece of the problem. We are thinking about doing something with one thing without impacting the other,” she said. “Network slicing is going to give operators huge freedom in terms of separation of concerns, in which each network slice is operated and upgraded with new features dealing with that particular set of customers with respect to billing policies, adding AI, machine learning models, in full freedom with respect to your other slices.”
This will unlock huge potential for service providers to deliver new types of services to users, reduce operational costs and operational management around how those services are delivered and maintained, Tariq said.
No need to wait
She added that while standards for network slicing haven’t been finalized, operators can start now. “The standards are behind. If there is a business case, we can deliver that and eventually we can help standards evolve around that. Of course we are keeping a close eye on TM Forum, 3GPP, ETSI, and it’s all coming together.”
T-Mobile’s Malik agreed that there’s no need for operators to wait for standards to make use of network slicing features in their orchestration implementations. “That’s going to take too long,” he said. “The first step is to understand the problem you need to solve, and if slicing is the solution, then use it. You don’t have to wait for slicing to be completely mature before you start on orchestration.”
First published at and supplied by courtesy of TM Forum Inform.