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Cloud-native container technologies are about to extensively transform networking services. At the KubeCon + CloudNativeCon 2019 conference earlier this week, a demonstration of how a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) network built on top of a Kubernetes cluster that accessed 5G wireless network services, showed how these technologies could transform networking.

During a live demo, Heather Kirksey, the vice president of community and ecosystem development for Linux Foundation Networking (LFN), employed containers running on a bare-metal instance of Kubernetes to create an SD-WAN in San Diego. This was then used to access 5G wireless networking services running on an instance of Kubernetes, which was running on an instance of OpenStack hosted in Montreal. A separate IP Multimedia Subsystem to manage the 5G network had previously been set up on a bare-metal instance of Kubernetes in Sophia Antipolis.

Kirksey says the purpose of this proof-of-concept was to illustrate how quickly container network functions (CNFs) will be able to replace virtual network functions (VNFs) to deliver network services at scale on industry standard hardware. Over 100 members of the LNF collaborated to build the POC. IT vendors participating in the POC included A10 Networks, Alibaba, Altran, China Mobile, Commscope, Foxconn, Intel, Kaloom, Lenovo, Loodse, NetScout, OpenAirInterface, Red Hat, and Turnium.

The future of containers in this space

For the last several years, builders of network services have been trying to move away from proprietary network hardware by embracing virtualization. However, instead of being locked into a proprietary hardware platform, the providers of network services have found themselves locked into specific instances of virtual machines.

Containers provide an alternative to virtual machines that make it possible to move a network function on to any hardware platform. Those containers also remove a layer of virtual machine software that also makes it possible to easily build and deploy faster applications to the network edge.

The LNF, an arm of the Linux Foundation, is already working the Global System for Mobile Communications (GMSA), the governing body for the telecommunications industry, within the context of a Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT) initiative to define VNF reference architectures for NFVi. Those reference architectures will be submitted to LFN for testing and verification via the OPNFV Verification Program.

At its core, Kubernetes is the orchestration engine for managing containers. Developed under the auspices of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), a separate arm of the Linux Foundation, there are now more than 500 companies, including Google, Red Hat, IBM and VMware, contributing to various Kubernetes related projects.

Kirksey says virtual machines will not be disappearing from networks any time soon. However, the POC makes it clear that CNFs are on the cusp of becoming a viable alternative for delivering network services, not just across 5G networks, but also a raft of industrial and enterprise networking use cases.

The issue organizations will soon face is a lack of container networking expertise. Savvy managed service providers (MSPs) will naturally rush to fill that gap. However, given how long it may take to acquire that expertise, it’s also apparent that most MSPs might soon find themselves racing to catch up to a major transition in how network services are built, deployed, and managed.

Photo:  MOLPIX / Shutterstock.

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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