The telecom cloud journey started about a decade ago with virtualization and cloudification of core network infrastructure. Now the cloud transformation is expanding from core to the edge network with virtualization of RAN (Radio Access Network) elements and industry focus on Open RAN. 5G’s introduction has further accelerated the virtualization of RAN so that service providers can dynamically create end-to-end slices from the core through the edge network to the end user device and help introduce and manage new services dynamically.
Multiple standards bodies are defining Open RAN specifications and there is a very healthy collaboration among the vendor and operator community to evaluate and deploy Open RAN. However, to take full advantage of the benefits of Open RAN, operators and vendors must develop a few new operational capabilities. Many of these capabilities are also applicable to virtual RAN deployments.
Automation and Orchestration for Highly Distributed Open RAN Networks
When the telecom cloud transformation started in the network core, it required a few large data centers / clouds with hundreds of servers in each to host all the Core applications (IMS, 4G Core, 5G Core, etc.). All the core-focused clouds and Core network functions running on them were centralized to a large extent. As the cloud moved from the core to the network edge to host RAN elements like virtual distributed units (DUs) and centralized units (CUs), the number of cloud instances increased by an order of magnitude and also became highly distributed across multiple geographic locations.
This introduced a significant operational challenge for operators not only to lifecycle manage the cloud infrastructure, including hardware and cloud software layers, but also the network functions and associated services. Lifecyle management includes Day 0/1 operations like deployment, configuration, orchestration and Day 2 operations like scaling up/down, healing and upgrading all the elements. Managing such a distributed network manually introduces complexity, increased operational costs and lack of agility in service delivery. To address this challenge, operators should design their network focused on automation and orchestration as a main tenet across all the layers of the network.
Infrastructure Automation – Hardware infrastructure is the foundation of the cloud layer and it is critical for operators to automate the deployment and lifecycle management of the infrastructure. Infrastructure automation tools help provision the hardware, including servers, networking, storage and accelerator cards, inventory the hardware, manage BIOS settings, firmware, operating systems and cloud platforms all optimized for RAN workloads. Additionally, they can continue to perform lifecycle management of all the infrastructure components.
Application Orchestration – At the workload layer, an orchestrator provides both resource as well as service orchestration functions. Resource orchestrator provides a single pane view of all the underlying virtual resources of the large number of distributed clouds. This is extremely helpful for ideal placement of workloads depending on resource availability. Also, it helps operations teams determine capacity requirements for deploying additional resources. The service orchestrator manages the life cycle of applications or services (concatenation of applications) in an automated manner including deployment, scaling, healing, and deletion of applications or services.
Zero Touch Provisioning (ZTP) – In current RAN networks, turn-up of a RAN site requires complicated manual operations and truck rolls to the sites. Open RAN provides an open architecture with flexible APIs that operators can leverage to evaluate and build ZTP solutions to automate the initial deployment and continuous lifecycle management of the remote RAN sites. This will drastically reduce the time taken to turn-up and manage RAN sites. ZTP based automation of tens of thousands of RAN edge nodes can provide significant OPEX savings to the operators.¹
Automated CI/CT/CD pipeline – Another capability operators need is related to continuous integration, continuous testing and continuous delivery (CI/CT/CD) of software that constitutes a large part of the Open RAN architecture including RAN CU/DU software, cloud platform software, firmware, OS, patches and more. To support the increased velocity of software delivery from various components/vendors that constitute a RAN ecosystem, operators need to build a CI/CT/CD delivery platform that can manage the software releases and integrate into the ZTP system to provide a seamless software deployment and upgrade throughout the network.
Dell Technologies is building solutions and tools to help operators operationalize Open RAN in their networks. Including:
Please read our other telecommunications blogs posts and visit our Open RAN solutions page.
1 The Economics Benefits of Dell Technologies Bare Metal Orchestrator, Peter Fetterolf, Ph.D.