NFV/IT Transformation

Microservices: Look before you leap

Microservices were a hot topic at this week’s TM Forum Live! with a panel of vendors and operators discussing the business case for a move to microservices.

The bottom line is microservices enable speed, agility and customer experience like never before. But, like most things worth doing, getting there is not going to be easy and it pays to know what you’re getting into.

The panellists were:

  • Yathish Nagavalli, Chief Enterprise Architect, Huawei
  • Julien Frisquet, CTO, Envision
  • Beau Atwater, Head of SaaS Factory, Ericsson
  • Todd Spraggins, Senior Product Manager – Director of Technology, Oracle
  • Dr. Lester Thomas, Head of Systems Architecture Center of Excellence, Vodafone Group

What’s driving microservices?

Customer experience

Lester Thomas said, “My role is to drive efficiency, agility and customer experience for all the services that we’re delivering and that’s why we’re interested in microservices…It’s about agility which we believe is crucial in delivering the customer experience.”

He added, “I can also organize my platform delivery teams into small teams and each one is responsible for part of the service,” including the design and deployment.

Speed

Julien Frisquet’s take was, “We are doing microservices because we want horizontal scalability… and we want that to be dynamic. We need to iterate quickly and fail quickly for any test that we want to do.”

Also, “Because it’s not a monolith of code, you are not stuck with one language. You can pick and mix. With REST-based APIs you can create your application much faster.”

Envision is also working with AI systems and needs to be able to scale them up and down to handle the load.

Scale

Beau Atwater explained that Ericsson works with many large telcos and is looking to scale its services out to smaller ones too, as well as enterprises such as utilities through SaaS (software as a service), “and the way to do that in a cost-effective way is with microservices.”

He said microservices are critical to minimizing downtime for subscription-based SaaS because, “I need to have zero apparent down time. With microservices I can upgrade a small piece, I don’t have to do the whole thing at once. “

“There are cost reasons too…,” he said. “But driving customer satisfaction is the overwhelming reason for microservices.”

Todd Spraggins described microservices as just one part of “SaaS hygiene”. He said, “It requires you to shift your thinking in a lot of places; not just software development. Containerization: Is that enough? Is DevOps enough? No and no. You need to be able to go to full CICD (continuous integration, continuous development)… to achieve webscale for SaaS, [microservices]is the only way to do it that’s profitable.”

Innovation

Yathish Nagavalli noted that microservices enable innovation, and survival – if we look at the top Fortune 100 companies in 2000 and compare that with 2010, many of them don’t exist anymore. “The key to survival is innovation,” he said. “We need to create a framework and an environment in which continuous innovation can happen. Microservices gives you exactly that.”

He commented that microservices architecture also embraces automation. “You can’t be successful in microservices without automation,” he argued. “And that also brings a lot of efficiency into the organization. It’s the combination of innovation, speed and efficiency.”

However, he warned, “It is required but it is not easy. There’s a lot of cost associated with making it a reality. You need to be aware of what you’re getting into.”

Challenges

Cultural shift

Lester Thomas agreed it’s not a quick fix: “It’s a big big cultural change – allowing teams to independently deploy code into production during peak business demand.”

He also noted a change in funding, explaining, “We have gone from a model where we have a set of requirements and [the team]commit to doing it for a fixed price in a fixed time. That’s moved to a capacity model for investment. We decide at a high level the areas of technology we want to invest in, then empower teams to deliver things into production at any time.”

Todd Spraggins agrees it’s a huge cultural change. “Companies are really worried about their image,” he said. “They are concerned about down time, cyber attacks and they have put a lot of rigor into their software practices to make sure they’re not the next headline. Can internal control systems adapt to the level of agility? This is especially challenging, for example, for telcos who have lots of operating companies.”

He added that in many cases, regulation isn’t keeping up either. When you are potentially deploying code daily or even hourly, you can’t do the required auditing, such as FISA and PCI.

Yathish Nagavalli pointed to a “development paradigm”, the challenge of defining how big each microservice is and defining service boundaries. He said there could also be challenges around finding the root cause of issues when you have distribution on that scale.

How to break the monolith

There’s also the issue of how to break the monolith, Julien Frisquet said. “You can’t knock it down and build it from scratch,” or leave it up and rebuild all the services. “You have to take the features and build in front of that monolith.”

So it’s not going to be easy but the rewards could be huge. The interest and energy in the room proved that many in the communications industry are committed to getting there, though. It looks like they don’t have any choice.



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About The Author

Editor

Prior to joining the Forum, she wrote for a range of technology clients. Sarah is most interested in the stories and people behind the technology.

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