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Carrier Execs Say Disruption Inevitable in Move to Cloud-Native World

Telecom carriers are still figuring out which of their operations should be moved to a cloud-native architecture and which will remain longer on legacy networks, experts said during a TelecomTV summit Thursday. Speakers agreed the process will be messy.

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Disruption is definitely inevitable, but there are ways to minimize it,” said Beth Cohen, Verizon cloud technology strategist. “You really need to think hard to minimize the disruption,” she said. Verizon’s approach has been to build new applications using a cloud-native approach, she said. “5G, for example, was heavily cloud-native, and you can see it within the open-source community and the standards bodies,” she said.

The next step is focusing on existing applications, Cohen said: “Should you just throw them away, you don’t need them anymore, just replace them, or do you do a lift and shift, or do you do re-architecture?” Each of those decisions has both cost benefits and additional costs, she said. Some parts of the network won’t change “because they’re just too expensive to move, and you need to work around them,” she said.

Databases that underpin network operations don’t affect the bottom line of a telco and are “enormously expensive and enormously complex,” Cohen said. “We’re going to not destroy decades worth of work” and carriers will continue to use their old databases, she said. “We need to add new ways to access them,” she said. Adapting to a cloud-based world “has been a learning process for our teams,” she said.

The move to the cloud-native world is a journey -- it will not happen overnight,” said Luis Velarde Tazon, head-cloud and infrastructure at Spanish provider Telefonica. Existing networks will still be around for years, he said. The move “will happen step by step,” he said. Cloud native “is a world where there’s additional complexity,” he said: “We need to incorporate, modify, adopt our existing operations and processes.”

Once the stacks and processes are ready, migration begins, Tazon said. Existing applications and workloads “will have to be adapted or made ready to be migrated -- this is the next step,” he said. New applications will start being designed as cloud-native “with portability in mind, with elasticity in mind, and all the requirements of cloud-native,” he said.

The telecom industry isn’t the first to make the shift to cloud-native, said Warren Bayek, vice president-technology at technology provider Wind River. “Other industries and other companies have done it successfully … and it is disruptive, there's no question about that,” he said. Telcos need to collaborate with the companies they work with who are already in the cloud-native world, Bayek said. That has been the strategy of Verizon “and it has been a pretty successful transformation,” he said.

Providers can’t keep old business processes and think they’re “going to be leveraging, or gaining the benefits of cloud-native,” said Leon Taiman, client principal-global telco practice at Dell Technologies “There’s got to be a shift in the operating model,” he said: “There’s got to be a transition in the teams. Training, leveraging open-source technologies, leveraging tools, are an important part of that transition.”

People used to “pitch” open-stack architecture as cloud-native, said Bejoy Pankajakshan, Mavenir chief technology and strategy officer. That “kind of failed miserably,” he said. If providers can’t share the infrastructure and scale applications as needed, based on the time of day and usage, all they did was migrate the workload without realizing the benefits that cloud-native architecture offers, he said.

Carriers can use all the lessons of the past to build best practices for a cloud-native world, said Fatih Nar, chief architect at Red Hat. Take advantage of open-source technologies, Nar advised. “That’s going to give you freedom of choice when you elect to switch your infrastructure from one vendor to another,” he said.

Speakers predicted a continuing move to platform engineering, the next evolution of “DevOps,” which integrates and automates the work of software development and IT operations.

Industry is moving to platform engineering, but that requires a change in mindset, said Hasan Jafri, Telus vice president-platform engineering. “It’s the linchpin to moving towards a well-designed cloud-native operating model,” he said. Platform engineering “breaks down silos in a more native manner,” Jafri said. “It creates a broader spectrum of concerns beyond development and operations. It establishes building blocks, tools, best practices. It empowers developers and allows faster deployment … with high reliability.”