Will Kubernetes Be the Operating System for 5G? AT&T News Suggests Yes

The telecom industry has a new technology term to add to its lexicon, as news today from AT&T illustrates. The carrier said it will work with open source infrastructure developer Mirantis on Kubernetes-controlled infrastructure that will underlie AT&T’s 5G network. In an interview about the AT&T Kubernetes news, Mirantis co-founder and chief marketing officer Boris Renski gave me the rundown on Kubernetes, which he believes will become the operating system for 5G networks.

According to Renski, infrastructure developed by Mirantis already underlies the 5G networks AT&T has deployed in several markets. AT&T and Mirantis have a new “eight-figure, three-year” agreement that includes making that solution more scalable, he said.

AT&T has been closely focused on making its networks more software-based and has promoted the concept of networks function virtualization (NFV),  which involves using generic networking hardware in place of the point solutions that traditionally have characterized telecom. As part of those plans, the carrier has embraced open standards as a means of encouraging other network operators to use the same approach with the goal of gaining interoperability. More carriers using the same approach also could lead to economies of scale.

The infrastructure that Mirantis is developing is what AT&T NFV applications will run on and Renski believes other carriers will use a similar approach as they deploy 5G.

AT&T Kubernetes Plans
Kubernetes could be thought of as part of the next evolutionary step after cloud computing and virtual machines.

One of the initial concepts behind cloud computing was to enable multiple entities to share servers or other infrastructure by enabling a single piece of equipment to act as multiple separate devices, or virtual machines, with separate operating systems. But webscale companies, notably Google, needed something different.

As Renski explained, “People are getting to the point where, when they build an application, it doesn’t just run on a single server.” Instead, applications such as Google’s search engine are comprised of components that run across many servers.

The solution for these companies was to use containers, which Renski defines as “a way to define everything that’s needed for an application to run – all the components of the operating system are included in the container. You can define an application in a container and you can run it on one or many servers.”

Kubernetes, Renski explained, is “an operating system that Google built that enables you to run containerized applications.”

Google released Kubernetes as an open standard and, according to Renski, “now that everybody is building applications that run in data centers on many servers, this is how to do it.”

Kubernetes is becoming a de facto standard in much the same way that Linux did and for the same reason – because it is open source, Renski explained.

As carriers begin to roll out 5G, he said carriers such as AT&T are looking to implement mobile packet core and other functionality as virtual network functions (VNFs) that will run on infrastructure such as what Mirantis offers.  And Renski sees Kubernetes as being well suited to act as the operating system controlling all of this.

“During the first year, we will go to about 3,000 servers. In the second and third year, we will potentially scale to 10,000 to 20,000 servers, respectively,” Renski said.

Renski sees AT&T buying some VNFs from vendors specializing in those functions and also developing other VNFs in house.

He pointed to the example of a virtual reality game that will require functionality to be in synch on multiple computers. To support that, he said, “you need network functions to stay close to the edge device and to synch with other edge device functions.”

AT&T or startup vendors will focus on developing VNFs to provide the requisite functionality to support specialized applications such as those, Renski said.

Renski conceded that there is no consensus yet about what will be the operating system for 5G. He noted that some carriers have developed software in house for that purpose. But his opinion is that “the only sound approach that gives the necessary efficiency is to use open standards for infrastructure — Kubernetes is an open standard and it will be the operating system for 5G networks.”

Renski made a compelling case for that view, and Telecompetitor will be watching closely to see whether his prediction comes true.

As part of today’s news, Mirantis also announced that it is joining the Airship project – and open infrastructure project founded by AT&T, SKT and Intel to simplify site operation for cloud operators.

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