NFV/IT Transformation

Microservices: Lessons from webscale companies

As CSPs build their internal software capabilities they will begin to face some of the same challenges that webscale companies came up against five or ten years ago – how to ensure that software development and the creation of large, monolithic applications does not slow their ability to innovate, scale and transform internal systems, processes and cultures.

Companies such as Amazon, Google, Twitter and eBay all started out by building their businesses on single monolithic applications. But, over a period of time, they developed so-called microservice architectures (or microservices). By deconstructing an application into smaller components which can be reused for other applications – and restructuring the IT organization into fully accountable microservice teams – companies can create more flexible, scalable and dynamic software development capabilities.

Nowhere is the potential for microservices greater for CSPs than in the network and the adoption of virtualized solutions and cloud-native architectures. Many large operator groups have set up internal initiatives for SDN and NFV – they include Vodafone’s Project Ocean, AT&T’s Domain 2.0, Telstra’s Network 2020 and Telefónica’s Unica. Some of the biggest evangelists for the adoption of microservices are executives leading these projects.

“We have an ambitious goal of virtualizing 75 percent of our network by 2020. Containers and microservices are key to reaching that goal,” Andre Feutsch, President and CTO, AT&T Labs, said in a 2015 blog post.

The more a CSP takes a do-it-yourself approach towards developing their future virtualized and cloud-based architectures, the more opportunity it will have to assess the merits of microservices. Telefonica, for example, has decided to get its hands dirty and program the automation of its network itself. Telefónica’s new platform architecture has a control layer, virtualization of resources and virtual functions, and the company is adopting a microservices architecture and will use containers to improve performance.

The microservices movement

Microservices are an extreme architectural concept which can be used in cloud and non-cloud scenarios. However, for CSPs they are most relevant to cloud-native applications and represent an important part of the digital transformation journey.

It is no coincidence that the service providers deploying microservices (such as those referenced in a new TM Forum report, Microservices: Piecing Together a Strategy) are large, established operators intent on becoming innovative and agile, and delivering customer experience that matches webscale companies.

They have built large teams of software developers and engineers working across IT, network and enterprise functions. The expertise they have acquired has resulted in moving beyond virtualization to embracing cloud-native approaches.

In his keynote presentation at TM Forum Live! in May, Shankar Arumugavelu, Senior Vice President and CIO, Verizon, referenced the importance of microservices to the company’s digital transformation. Microservices will be used to modernize the IT stack in an effort to reduce complexity – a process that has already resulted in the rationalization of two thirds of its applications.

But it is worth repeating that CSPs like Verizon are still at the early stages of this transformation. Greenfield systems and approaches will offer an easier pathway to cloud and microservices, but in practice legacy IT and networks will dominate the telecoms horizon for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, microservice approaches necessarily involve trial and error and the telecoms industry as a whole will need to figure out how ambitious – or otherwise – it should be.

Speaking at 5G World in London in June, Deutsche Telekom’s Vice President of Core Network and Services, Franz Seiser, identified a cloud-native architecture as one of the three key concepts for a 5G architecture (the others being an ultra-dense network and network slicing).

A modularisation of network functions should be part of this cloud-native architecture, he added, although a proper discussion is needed about what the criteria should be to design the right size of these blocks. “We need to be careful about creating a massive management problem with thousands of microservices”.

Make it happen

There are a number of steps that CSPs should take as they plan their migration to microservices:

  • Be prepared for organizational changes – the changes will be as much about the adoption of new business cultures and decentralization of responsibility and accountability as the creation of physical teams.
  • Work with partners – start talking with technology partners about their approaches to microservices and, where possible, work with them on a componentized approach.
  • Be realistic and pragmatic – an overambitious microservices project risks creating a management and organizational headache.
  • Build a microservices approach into the 5G core – standards body 3GPP will start work on Release 16 to address the 5G core in mid-2018, with a target completion date of the end of 2019.
  • Consider microservices for BSS transformation – the front-end systems have changing requirements, such as digital stores, are particularly well-suited to a componentized approach.
  • Consider using TM Forum’s Frameworx and Open APIs as potential tools to help start building a microservices strategy.

Piecing together a strategy

This report looks at how CSP can use microservices. Read it to understand more about:

  • What microservices are
  • How microservices can help CSPs
  • Why network virtualization isn’t enough
  • Why OSS/BSS must change in the virtualized world
  • How operators expect to use microservices to improve OSS/BSS


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About The Author

Chief Analyst

Mark Newman is an analyst with 25 years of experience delivering insights on the future of the telecoms sector to senior level executives and audiences. Mark’s recent research has focussed on telecoms operator business models, digital transformation, service provider diversification, and the intersection between Internet and telecoms. He delivers analysis, presentations, strategy sessions and workshops to global audiences, helping them to plan for the changes that technology and disruptive new business models that will fundamentally transform their businesses. Mark was Chief Research Officer at Informa Telecoms & Media and Ovum before leaving to set up his own research firm, ConnectivityX, in 2016. He joined the TM Forum as Chief Analyst in February 2017.

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