Guest Author: Keith Dyer, Editor, The Mobile Network
As telcos change to become digital service providers there has been a lot of focus on transforming the network. However, there is an additional element to enabling this transformation shift, and that is providing OSS/BSS (Operational and Business Support Systems) that can work within this dynamic, open, cloud-native environment.
The benefits promised by programmable networks enabled by a cloud based infrastructure will only be fully realised if the OSS/BSS are also cloud-enabled to match the dynamism, flexibility, and agility of the network.
OSS/BSS software has, to date, been designed as monolithic packages designed to support a specific service or set of use cases. A more fluid and dynamic network service environment will therefore require access to support system functionality on the same fluid and dynamic basis. Often this will entail requiring only part of an overall package, or a requirement for a billing or charging function may only be very short term. Take for example an offer of content from a streaming media partner that is designed around a localised, live event. The telco as a platform vision is that the partners will be able to self-design and order services such as these on the telco platform, with all the necessary network fulfilment, security, policy, charging, billing and customer interaction being provided as required. Only fully-automated processes, scaled to demand, could meet this vision economically and practically.
That is why the concept of a microservices based approach in OSS/BSS is being investigated and, in certain leading operators, adopted as a target outcome. A microservices architecture decomposes a monolithic application as a set of small autonomous services that are independently deployable. Each microservice executes on its own process and is designed to achieve a single business capability.
In the OSS/BSS this entails an evolution from a suite of independent applications to a set of microservices deployed within a common platform. Each key function of the application is decomposed into a functional element that is available from a microservices platform and can be separately scaled. These elements include BSS functions with applications such as Online Charging Systems, Revenue Assurance and Mediation and OSS capabilities within areas such as Service Assurance, Deployment Lifecycle Management and Automated Testing. This architecture gives telcos the ability to decouple operation of their networks from OSS/BSS silos, increasing service agility and business flexibility.
MICROSERVICES ARCHITECTURE AND DEPLOYMENT
A common deployment framework that enables microservices from different developers and providers to interoperate requires the provider of the microservices platform to have a thorough understanding of, and support for, the wide variety of APIs that can support the open cloud management platforms that telcos are developing. These include protocol and transport technologies in use today from REST and SOAP-based APIs to specialist network protocols such as Diameter, Radius and COPS, as well as equipment vendor-specific protocols.
A common microservices platform must also be deployable within the virtualisation environment that telcos choose to deploy. To achieve maximum flexibility, that includes the ability to support software (microservices) based in containers. Although some have thought container technology faces challenges in meeting telco requirements on reliability, several Tier One telcos have recently expressed the opinion that containers will be a crucial tool to enable, in particular, edge and distributed cloud deployments.
CHANGE OF WORKING ENVIRONMENT: DEVOPS
Building applications as collections of loosely joined services that each operate autonomously requires a completely different approach to software development compared with building large monolithic applications.
Telcos are faced with a lot more individual software entities (microservices) to manage, upgrade and change – but in each instance that entity is a much smaller target than upgrading a monolithic application. New functions can often be delivered through a process of ongoing change and replacement, rather than intrusive and costly customisations, and without affecting the rest of the application. This allows smaller development teams to take ownership of a function before and after production, independent of the end service use to which that function is deployed. This fuels faster cycles of innovation and experimentation – thus achieving the full potential of DevOps practices.
To this end, taking a microservices approach to OSS/BSS applications both benefits from and enables a DevOps-based approach to software and service development.
Operating a microservice platform for OSS/BBSS functionalities will enable telcos to do what they really want, which is to encourage internal innovation. Making microservices available on a platform basis enables that approach.
Ultimately, a move to microservices enables telcos to achieve a long-held aim – to be able to empower and encourage their own teams and staff to innovate. For too long innovation has been the domain of the web based giants that have developed purpose-built cloud platforms upon which they can iterate and re-iterate quickly and at low cost. A microservices approach to developing and deploying OSS/BSS functions will be a key part of the overall transformation of telcos into true platform businesses.
Editor, The Mobile Network