Red Hat has partnered with Mavenir to enable developers to employ the Red Hat OpenShift platform, based on Kubernetes, to build container network functions (CNFs) for open radio access networks (RAN).
Ian Hood, chief technologist for the global service provider business at Red Hat, says open RANs are evolving in much the same way as other telecommunications networks; carriers are in the process of virtualizing RANs to enable them to replace proprietary network hardware with platforms based on lower-cost commercial processors.
Initially, carriers started down that path by employing virtual network functions (VNFs) deployed on virtual machines, but as virtualization continues to evolve, CNFs are starting to become more widely employed because they are more portable. That capability, for example, makes it easier for a firewall provider to build a single CNF that can be deployed on any network, rather than building multiple VNFs for specific virtual machines.
Open RAN platforms are at the core of both 4G and 5G wireless networks that many IT organizations are eyeing as they look to push applications to the network edge. Carriers need CNFs, and platforms based on Kubernetes, to orchestrate and spin up or down network services to enable those applications.
The alliance with Mavenir is the second major open RAN initiative for Red Hat, following a collaboration with Altiostar that was announced last year. Red Hat is also working with Samsung and Intel to drive 5G adoption based on networking services enabled by Kubernetes. Intel and Red Hat have also developed Operators tools for managing field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) acceleration devices from within the Red Hat OpenShift platform. Red Hat is also working with NVIDIA to push AI applications to the network edge.
Most carriers, including enterprise IT organizations that are building private networks, will, for the foreseeable future, at least, use a mix of CNFs and VNFs. However, over time, it’s likely most VNFs will be supplanted by CNFs as they become more widely employed on 5G networks. One of the most attractive aspects of Red Hat OpenShift is it provides a platform for consistently building CNFs using a set of tools and DevOps frameworks that many developers already know, Hood said. There is no need to acquire and maintain a unique set of application development tools that developers have to master, Hood added.
Regardless of an organizations’ chosen path to 5G, there may soon be more microservices-based container applications running outside the cloud than in, as the number of edge computing platforms connected to wireless networking services rapidly accelerates. That can only occur, however, when there are a rich set of virtual network services in place that can be programmatically invoked, on-demand, wherever required to integrate those applications with a wide range of back-end application services.
In many ways, carriers are moving down the same virtualization track as enterprise IT organizations. The major difference is they need to make that transition at scale without interrupting any existing services provided.