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Which Came First, Network Transformation Or Cloud Native?


Author: Peter Mangan (LinkedIn)
Bio: Peter Mangan is a software director in Intel’s Network and Edge Group (NEX) with a background in embedded systems. He manages teams of software engineers working on Cloud Native technologies such as Kubernetes and Observability for high-speed networking and edge use cases. Additionally, he holds four patents.

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg question, and there’s an Emmy in the mix. But first, let me tell you about Network Transformation.

What is Network Transformation?

Telecommunication Networks were traditionally built with custom fixed-function Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) that could perform a set of tasks such as implementing layer 2 and layer 3 network processing in a wireless network’s base station, and that performed them well.

These ASICs performed better than general-purpose compute for these types of workloads, but they were not as flexible.

By the mid to late 2000s, general-purpose compute started to catch up with them, especially for low to mid-level performance requirements. This was the catalyst for Network Transformation- exploring how networking application like base stations, cable networks, routers and switches could be built with general purpose compute.

Another inflection point came with growth in virtualization in enterprise and cloud computing, which allowed multiple tenants to run their workloads on a single server, resulting in better utilization of the infrastructure. In 2012, ETSI NFV was launched by seven of the world’s largest network operators to move Telco workloads to off-the-shelf servers running virtualization technologies.

The next inflection point was Cloud Native, as pioneered by companies like Netflix, which involved building scalable and fault-tolerant web-scale applications. Telcos explored how they could leverage it. The benefits to Telcos are enabling them to embrace the DevOps culture, take advantage of continuous delivery / deployment and leverage all the innovation in Opensource.

Technical challenges with Cloud Native for Telco

Kubernetes has been designed for managing large scale Cloud Native workloads and has become the defacto choice for orchestrating these workloads. However, it hasn’t been designed for Telco networking workloads which are different to traditional web scale applications. Telco workloads typically require high speed networking, deterministic performance and multiple network interfaces into the pod.

This has led to much innovation to make Kubernetes more useful for Telco workloads, including work done by Intel to support high speed networking in Kubernetes with DPDK, enabling SRIOV and supporting deterministic performance by adding support for CPU pinning and NUMA. Another innovation by Intel was Multus, a project that equips Kubernetes with support for multiple network interfaces into a pod, as required by legacy networking applications with separate data plane, control plane and management plane networks. Intel has moved to the SRIOV and Multus projects to a community location, the Networking plumbing working group.

What does all this have to do with an Emmy?

Along the Network Transformation journey, Comcast sought a Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) to run mainly in software on off-the-shelf servers. Harmonic brought the DOCSIS CMTS software stack, Intel provided the servers, and together the three built the Cloud Native CMTS, with Kubernetes orchestrating the workload.

In addition to the Kubernetes innovations listed earlier to help with deterministic high-speed networking, Intel implemented a reference CMTS stack with benchmarks to demonstrate what performance is achievable on an off the shelf server and added DOCSIS security support to DPDK

The pioneering work by Harmonic, Comcast, and Intel to build the industry’s first virtualized CMTS leveraging Cloud Native technologies resulted in the project being nominated for and receiving a Technical Emmy to be presented at the 74th Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards Ceremony held on Sunday, April 16 at the 2023 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in Las Vegas.

As an engineer, I’m motivated working with the brightest and best in solving industry problems that help our customers innovate. I never expected to be part of a project that would receive an Emmy, it’s a very proud moment.

So, which came first, Network Transformation or Cloud Native?

Network Transformation came first, but technologies and techniques pioneered in the Cloud and Enterprise have made it all possible.

To find out more about cool Cloud Native innovations, check out KubeCon and CloudNativeCon Europe 2023, which are being hosted in Amsterdam and virtually from April 18th to 21st, 2023.

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