It All Started With Kubernetes. This “cloud operating system” was developed in-house by Google in 2014 to manage the deployment of software components in its various data centers, as well as enable rapid scale-ups. Published soon after as an open-source platform by the Linux Foundation, this reliable and well-documented technology was picked up by many players across the cloud ecosystem and has since become the industry standard. The Nephio open-source community’s work builds on these foundations and aims to construct networks from cloud-deployed technological components.
With Nephio, the goal is to build and deploy a network in the same way as we would a very large piece of software that needs to be distributed across a given region.
A Matter of Automation
This technology has long been an attractive prospect to telecoms operators. According to Éric Debeau, Head of the OSONS (Open and Smart Solutions for Automating Network Services) team at Orange Innovation, “Deploying network functions today still requires a lot of “manual” configuration work. That is, these functions are still being configured locally, in the network adapters of physical servers dotted around the country. Only then can the software components deployed on cloud infrastructures be retrieved. But the rise of virtual network functions brings with it the promise of automation, which will make it much easier to manage the software we deploy in order to optimize our network on a daily basis.”
So How Can We Harness the Full Potential of the Cloud?
Not so fast. Designing networks in this way comes with its own set of peculiarities, configurations and constraints, especially in terms of performance. Legacy network hardware and software suppliers, who lack the right tools, often resort to the code that they create for servers, attempting to simply move this to the cloud. As a result, their solutions are not harnessing the full potential of the tools provided in the cloud environment, even though those tools ensure faster and more secure networks.
“With Nephio,” Debeau continues, “the goal is to build and deploy a network in the same way as we would a very large piece of software that needs to be distributed across a given region. We’ll develop a set of software components that facilitate automation. This will enable us to deploy network functions in a more flexible way, to ramp up throughput and to address the challenges posed by the IoT, connected cars, Industry 4.0 and so on. Standardization communities today define specifications and describe how solutions can be implemented but they aren’t giving people the tools to do this. Nephio should fill this gap and in doing so, we hope, get the entire ecosystem on board.”
Nephio: A Community
Managing large and complex applications deployed across multiple data centers is nothing new to Google Cloud. In order to make Nephio a reality, the company has enlisted various service and infrastructure suppliers and stakeholders, including Telecom Italia, Rakuten Mobile and Orange. “As a carrier,” explains Debeau, “we will be able to specify what is needed, carry out deployment tests and use our knowledge of our various businesses to improve the solution. Orange has a wealth of experience working with open-source software, as we are already involved in several Linux Foundation projects.”
Where Interests Lie
Having been officially launched on April 12, 2022, Nephio is now entering its construction phase. The coming months will be an opportunity to define its technical, organizational and governance rules. Google’s interests in such an undertaking are clear: It hopes to develop an ecosystem in which the American tech giant can then monetize add-on solutions. In open-source software, you can do everything yourself. But having the support of this leading technological player guarantees security and solutions that will continue to work over time. In practice, Nephio will still provide users with the essential tools. And What About Orange? “For Orange, the challenge is this: to leverage the power of Google to create a joint solution that can deliver on the promise of cloud-native networks.”