Telecommunications are the lifeblood of modern society. People want to be in touch with their friends and family, get the latest news, and be entertained wherever and whenever they like. Telecom providers can ensure an uninterrupted and positive customer experience only by being able to innovate quickly, add new services and features, and seamlessly integrate them with their existing range of offers.
To accomplish this, communication service providers (CSPs) have to digitize their existing operation support systems (OSSs) and business support systems (BSSs). Applying a microservices approach to operation and business support systems combined with DevOps practices is the best way to achieve the both the OSS transformation and BSS transformation.
One of the biggest shortcomings of existing telecom mainframes is their rigidity. Telecom software development is painstakingly slow, as vendors have to ensure integration and interoperability of their systems with all components available on the market — or with a significant portion of them, at the very least.
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Comparison of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks
For this reason, telecom providers are used to overhauling their operation/business support systems every couple of years or so when newer equipment becomes available — and this costs quite a lot. As shown above, the shift towards 5G that started in 2018 is pressing telecom operators to revamp their IT infrastructure once more to support the 300 GHz bandwidth. But this is hard to do through hardware alone.
Legacy systems consist of multiple hardware and software components that cannot be easily reconfigured. Any update, upgrade, or adjustment entails significant expenses and leads to a high total cost of ownership (TCO).
Also, scaling legacy systems is complicated, as adding more capacity does not remove bottlenecks that are structural, not operational. For example, it doesn’t matter that your network has 15 switches with 1 Gbps bandwidth each if they’re all connected to a 1 Gbps router that physically cannot provide 15 individual 1 Gbps channels. Therefore, it would be more efficient to install 15 100 Mbps switches with 70 Mbps max throughput. 5G networks face the same problem, just magnified.
Consider transitioning to cloud-native OSS/BSS through virtualization. Communication service providers can now replace hardcoded network functions delivered through a piece of equipment with virtualized network functions (VNFs) enabled via a virtual environment. The result is that scaling the system up and down or reconfiguring it entails no significant capital expenditures and the system itself has minimal operating expenses, leading to a significantly reduced total cost of ownership. The question of configuring and running multiple virtual machines remains, however, as virtual machines consume a significant amount of resources and demand time to be launched or rebooted.
Benefits of a microservices-based approach to OSS/BSS transformation
Microservices for telco BSS/OSS are the next step, as they allow you to split any application or function into a bundle of independent functions running in separate Docker containers.
The key benefit of running various components of BBS in telecom domain and networks as microservices is that you can launch, stop, and restart them independently. This means you can manage, update, and scale each virtual network function seamlessly, without stopping the whole system. Docker containers run atop a Kubernetes cluster, and Prometheus + Grafana solutions from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation can help you monitor such clusters.
Schematics of Prometheus + Grafana monitoring for a Kubernetes cluster
Microservices can interact with each other and any number of external tools using RESTful APIs. This also allows you to quickly add them to an existing system without the need for major investments and reorganization. You can monitor complex microservice systems with the help of message brokers like Kafka or RabbitMQ, which help you track the performance of OSS and BSS telco tools in real time and ensure the transparency of logging.
Besides, as microservices run in separate containers, a security breach in one container doesn’t affect the entire system. This reduces security risks, which are always a concern when handling complex software and hardware platforms with a multitude of customer-facing endpoints.
The final important factor is that multiple vendors already use microservices in developing IoT products, big data analytics, machine learning solutions, AR/VR platforms, etc. Using microservices for telecom back-office modernization ensures interoperability and the ease of integrating new functions, significantly reducing potential expenses.
Reimagining existing IT systems, modernizing operation support and business support systems, and transforming workflows is the best way for CSPs to remain competitive. Cloud migration is an essential step in this process, yet for many CSPs, it’s stalled by the lack of internal resources and skills required to take such a leap.
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Roadmap for rolling out microservices: 6 key factors for CSPs
As we mentioned, a lack of relevant experience can hinder OSS/BSS digitization in large communication service providers. Below is a roadmap that can help you evaluate the feasibility of such a transition for your company and take measures.
- Determine the most valuable processes that can be automated. Cloud platforms aren’t magic wands. They ease the scaling of business processes that drive value, but moving useless operations to the cloud will bear little fruit.
- Determine the most loaded systems and processes in your IT infrastructure to complement them with cloud-native components. The transition to digital OSS/BSS transformation will not happen overnight, so legacy and cloud-native systems will have to work in parallel for some time. Ensuring interoperability is vital for keeping systems active during the transition.
- Use standardized tools and components. Working with vendors that build their systems with proprietary technology guarantees vendor lock-in and the complexity of further adjustments. Leverage industry-standard open-source DevOps tools to ensure the simplicity of integrating and further altering your systems.
- Ensure scalability by design. Adding more capacity doesn’t mean scaling. Doubling or halving the number of active services should happen quickly, predictably, and without any performance bottlenecks. The system architecture should ensure this.
- Think of security from the start.Time to market, customer onboarding costs, and other parameters are important, but cybersecurity is the backbone of long-term success. Security breaches can be devastating for a business, so ensure that top-notch security measures are integrated with your systems from the start.
- Plan for integration beforehand. You may need to integrate some components at any time. Thus, all your OSS transformation solutions and virtual components must support RESTful APIs to integrate seamlessly with each other and third-party modules when the time comes.
While these six factors are essential, the team that performs the cloud transformation is the critical element. Microservices is quite a niche inside the broader cloud infrastructure orchestration domain, so both the IT industry and telecom providers face a lack of relevant expertise in-house. This is why delegating such projects to reputable vendors with relevant expertise is preferable when it comes to cloud migration.
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Enabling OSS/BSS transformation
The business landscape of the twenty-first century is fast-paced, and customer preferences change rapidly. Agility is crucial for communication service providers that strive to remain competitive and implement new features while keeping their operation support and business support systems cost-efficient. Building secure, scalable, and manageable infrastructures using microservices will help you reach this business objective.
Cloud migration will help CSPs move away from the regular and significant capital expenditures involved in upgrading and replacing hardware and software components. Instead, you can have much more manageable operational expenses for updating microservices code. This will ensure lower risk, better performance, and higher customer satisfaction, enabling your company to become an innovative digital telecommunication services provider.
Intellias can assist with cloud migration and the OSS/BSS transformation with microservices. Contact our experts for details.