Why are CSPs moving to a horizontal architecture?

As CSPs capitalize on 5G, their IT landscapes are at a crossroads

IT architectures and landscapes have evolved dramatically over the last two decades, and communication service providers (CSPs) have struggled for years to transform theirs. Most of them are facing the legacy challenges of monolithic BSS and OSS stacks compounded as the tech stacks differ for each line of business.

And now, the rollout of new 5G services has intensified the already strong competition between CSPs and their more agile hyperscaler counterparts

5G carries new requirements on-demand services, enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), massive machine-type communications (mMTC), and ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) which demand a level of innovation and operational agility that the complex, siloed architecture of CSPs’ existing networks can’t keep up with.

These networks are challenging to automate and manage because they are built on vertically integrated monolithic stacks designed to run vendor-specific virtual network functions (VNFs). Cloud-native architectures and the utilization of containerized network functions (CNFs) are also required for 5G. Using CNFs in conjunction with VNFs complicates operations even more. 

Furthermore, traditional orchestration platforms lack the telco-centric features needed to automate multi-tenant, distributed CNFs and provide the resiliency and reliability required in a highly regulated industry with stringent service level agreements and demanding consumers. Operations that take place in silos make end-to-end visibility nearly impossible, dampening the prospect of tailored 5G services. 

All these challenges are squeezing profit margins, slowing down 5G deployments, and hampering innovation. CSPs are encumbered by rising network and spectrum costs, rigid resources, vertical stacks locked in silos, and unforeseen shifts in demand. The realization of 5G's full benefits and capabilities depends on a flexible, open, and transparent architecture.

The case for a horizontal platform approach

The complexity of integrating/coordinating network functions and managing multiple services demands a simple, automated approach that speeds up 5G deployments, streamlines operations, reduces risk, and decreases cost. 

A horizontal architecture, in contrast to a vertical, siloed architecture, shares a common platform and uses the same hypervisor, storage, and networking solutions. It's simpler, less expensive, and easier to maintain, bringing consistency and efficiency to operations. CSPs can use the same tools for operational tasks like patching, monitoring, alarm handling, fault handling, and troubleshooting. 

According to an ACG research analyst paper sponsored by Red Hat, with a horizontal architecture, CSPs can halve the engineering, planning, and management expenses; cut the cost of securing multiple silos by a third; and save on multiple software licenses. This reduces the total cost of ownership by as much as 30%.

Platforms that are horizontally integrated can also minimize the total cost of ownership compared with vertically integrated deployments. Horizontal platforms enable applications to be easily automated, whereas the vertical alternative needs more tools and processes, and is more likely to lock service providers into one vendor offering. The multi-vendor approach gives CSPs greater flexibility and allows them to benefit from an accessible, smartly distributed ecosystem. 

By adopting this horizontal platform approach, CSPs can avoid creating new network silos while building out 5G. At the same time, they gain a simplified, consistent overlay across their complex heterogeneous environments, making them easier to manage, scale, and secure.

The path to deploying 5G quickly and cost-effectively is paved by adopting a common horizontal architecture, cloud-native technology, multi-layer automation, and built-in security:

  • Common horizontal infrastructure: Combines clouds and multi-vendor networks into a single platform. With common infrastructure, CSPs can avoid creating new network silos while building out 5G. Horizontal architectures provide centralized management at scale by simplifying complex heterogeneous environments.
  • Cloud-native principles: Kubernetes, containers, and microservices provide ways for establishing the flexible operations required to thrive with 5G. The automated operations and agile methods that come with cloud-native technology help streamline the development, deployment, and management of 5G services.
  • Multi-layer automation: Brings together multi-cloud resources in a centralized orchestration system and then uses intent-based placement for optimization. An integrated approach to service assurance that takes advantage of machine learning can monitor the whole 5G landscape, predict impacts of network changes, and automate actions to further optimize the network.
  • Built-in security: Protects the infrastructure, network, and applications from the inside out.

Conclusion: A horizontal architecture lays the foundation for future services and business innovation

To capitalize on the opportunities of 5G and improve their competitive position, CSPs must overcome the limitations of their existing network architectures and transform their businesses into an agile force with streamlined operations. Now, they are moving away from traditional OSS stacks to a simplified, pre-integrated horizontal architecture that can be readily configured to support specific service offerings, including those that leverage VNF, such as SD-WAN, mobile VPN, and 5G network slicing. 

A horizontal foundation speeds up the design and deployment of 5G services, automates operations, optimizes resources, and protects dynamic networks. It also adds simplicity and agility to security operations. By adopting a horizontal architecture combined with other emerging technologies, CSPs can propel into the future with agility and efficiency while maintaining carrier-grade performance and reliability. 

Whether you're just getting started or already on the way to a horizontal architecture, Softtek helps you build out 5G capabilities with end-to-end services for your cloud-powered enterprise:

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