by Bhupen Chauhan (edited by Alan J Weissberger)
A recent advancement in Session Border Controllers (SBCs) involves moving them to the cloud and utilizing elasticity. The use of Containers (defined below) intensifies this change even more. SBC solutions are essential for businesses. Service providers depend on Voice over IP (VoIP), because they provide security, interoperability, quality, and compliance in their communication infrastructure. We’ll delve further into the world of Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs using containers in this post.
What is a SBC?
A Session Border Controller (SBC) is a specialized hardware device or software program that controls how phone calls are answered, carried out, and ended as VoIP. They act as gatekeepers between internal and external networks, managing the media streams and signals necessary for establishing, carrying out, and terminating calls.
A SBC establishes and keeps track of each session’s quality of service (QoS) state, guaranteeing calls must be answered correctly, and urgent calls take precedence over all other calls. Additionally, an SBC can act as a firewall for session traffic by enforcing its QoS policies and recognizing particular inbound threats to the communication environment.
SBC’s Significance in Communications:
By providing security, guaranteeing interoperability, and enabling the effective use of network resources, SBCs strengthen communication networks. Here are several reasons to have Session Border Controller in VoIP Phone System and protect IP communications, defending against intrusions and offering essential functions, including:
- Security: An SBC’s most important responsibility is to defend the network against hostile assaults, including fraud, eavesdropping, and denial of service (DoS) attacks. They add a layer of security by concealing the network topology.
- Quality of Service (QoS): SBCs ensure that voice calls have the capacity and resources to remain high-quality by prioritizing voice traffic over other kinds of traffic.
- Interoperability: SBCs provide smooth communication between various devices, protocols, and signaling in IP networks by offering the required protocol translations.
- NAT Traversal: VoIP communication may encounter problems due to Network Address Translation (NAT). By fixing NAT traversal issues, SBCs guarantee reliable and continuous communications.
- Call Routing and Policy Enforcement: SBCs effectively route calls according to rules and specifications. They can also control bandwidth usage and implement various payment methods.
- Regulatory Compliance: Communication service providers are required in some areas to offer the ability to intercept communications legally. SBCs help VoIP service providers in fulfilling these kinds of legal obligations.
- Media services: Comprise functions like tone production, DTMF (dual-tone multi-frequency) interworking, and transcoding (changing one codec to another).
SBCs are essential to today’s communications environment, particularly regarding IP-based voice and video communications. Cloud-based and elastic SBCs will play a more significant role as communications change and more services go to the cloud. Now, we will together understand the concept of Cloud Native and Elastic SBCs.
What are Cloud Native and Elastic SBCs?
A strategy for developing and executing programs that takes advantage of the cloud computing concept is known as cloud-native. Conversely, Elastic SBCs describe a system’s capacity to adjust automatically to variations in workload by allocating and releasing resources.
Traditional SBCs and Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs are different as we now explain.
Traditional SBCs vs. Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs:
Traditional SBCs lack flexibility and are usually hardware-based. They might be expensive and difficult to expand or change. In comparison, Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs are highly adaptable. They provide cost-effectiveness and agility by effortlessly scaling up or down in response to demand.
Elasticity’s Function in Communication Services:
Elasticity guarantees continuous communication services that can adjust to heavy demands, particularly during peak hours. It implies that networks may scale resources without human intervention, ensuring service quality without taxing the infrastructure or adding needless expenses.
What are Containers?
Containers are small, independent, executable software packages containing all the necessary components to run a piece of software, guaranteeing that it performs consistently in various computing settings.
Function of Containers in the Modern Applications Deployment:
Containers offer an unequaled level of consistency and speed, revolutionizing how programs are delivered. They contain an application and all its dependencies, guaranteeing that it functions the same everywhere it is deployed.
Kubernetes and Docker:
Docker technology creates, transports, and operates applications inside containers. Meanwhile, Kubernetes’s container orchestration technology ensures that massive container deployments are effectively scaled and managed.
The Research and Markets predicts the global Kubernetes market is anticipated to expand significantly, rising from USD 1.8 billion in 2022 to USD 7.8 billion by 2030, with a spectacular Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 23.4%
Use of Containers in SBCs:
SBCs benefit from unrivaled scalability, flexibility, and agility thanks to containers. They enable rapid deployments, guarantee consistency across many environments, and dramatically cut overall overheads—financially and in terms of time. Using Containers involves:
- Individual micro-services package and deploy using containers such as Docker. It guarantees scalability, isolation, and effective resource use.
- It can easily update services, rolled back, and versioned.
Architectural Considerations for Creating Cloud-Native Applications:
Scalability, Redundancy, Resilience, and Performance considerations are crucial when constructing Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs with containers. Architectures must be modular, and facilities must be made for smooth upgrades and patches that don’t interfere with running services. The following architectural factors should be taken into account while creating and deploying Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs using containers:
Disentanglement of Elements:
- Conventional SBCs frequently integrate several features into a single monolithic system.
- Micro-services design, in which every function (signaling, media processing, transcoding, security, etc.) is a separate, independent service, is the best way to create cloud-native SBCs.
- Containerized SBC micro-services can be managed and orchestrated by tools such as Kubernetes, which guarantees their efficient scheduling, scaling, and maintenance.
- Consider putting service mesh technologies into practice for enhanced traffic management and security.
- Active call sessions require careful management.
- Consider utilizing state full sets in Kubernetes or distributed databases to maintain a session state.
High Redundancy and Availability:
- Should guarantee redundancy over several zones or regions Via cloud-native design.
- Incorporate self-healing procedures and health checks to ensure uninterrupted service availability.
Converting SBCs to a containerized, cloud-native architecture has benefits for maintainability, scalability, and flexibility. However, careful architectural considerations are necessary to guarantee cost-effectiveness, security, and performance.
Containers Networking for Real-Time Communication:
The networking element of containers is essential in the area of real-time communication. It guarantees seamless switching between media streams, satisfies low-latency specifications, and ensures that Quality of Service (QoS) standards.
Elastic and Cloud Native SBC Security and Compliance:
SBCs play a crucial role in addressing security. Strong security measures are required for Cloud Native/Elastic SBCs to thwart threats, prevent unwanted access, and guarantee data privacy. They must also adhere to industry norms and laws to ensure reliable communication connections.
Prospects for the Future and the Changing Scene for Cloud Native SBCs:
SBCs will likely interact more deeply with cloud ecosystems in the future, utilizing AI and machine learning to provide more innovative and adaptive features. To support developing IoT and 5G use cases, edge computing may also play a more significant part in Cloud Native SBCs.
A significant improvement in the evolution of network security and telecommunications has been realized cloud-native and elastic principles and the power of containers. This new paradigm is poised to completely reshape communication networks in the future since it provides agility, scalability, and efficiency. As we embrace containerization and the cloud, the possibilities are endless, opening the prospect of a more efficient, safe, and networked world.
MTN Consulting publishes quarterly vendor share in the telecom vertical, covering more than 100 suppliers of hardware, software and services. Many of them are starting to call out the cloud service providers as among their key competitors. VMware is an obvious one. It notes that “providers of public cloud infrastructure and SaaS-based offerings, such as Amazon AWS, Google GCP, Oracle Cloud and Microsoft Azure” are direct competitors.
Nearly a decade ago, as cloud services began gaining popularity, many telcos hoped to be direct beneficiaries on the revenue side. The cloud market went a much different direction, though, with large internet-based providers proving to have the global scale and deep pockets able to develop the market effectively. From 2011-2020 webscale operators invested over $700 billion in capex, a big portion of it devoted to building out their cloud infrastructure.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) made the earliest strides in telecom, in 2015 (with Verizon), but Azure and GCP were serious about the market by 2017.
By 2020, cloud service providers had made significant progress in the telecom sector. The figure below, courtesy of MTN Consulting, provides an estimate of cloud revenues in the telecom vertical for the three top U.S. based cloud service providers as well as China-based Alibaba and Tencent.
Here is how cloud computing helps telecom operators thrive and provide better services:
- Ensure high scalability: telcos who have made their journey to the cloud can easily scale up for today and scale back down once the demand for telecommunication services returns to its normal.
- Guarantee resilience: cloud computing helps telecom companies quickly recover from stressful situations such as sporadic high loads, hacker attacks, hardware failures, etc. It is based on a well-architected approach that allows the self-healing of a system in time. Anomaly detection, automation, and adaptiveness are the key concepts of it.
- Offer quick disaster recovery: anything from a power outage at a data center to a security breach may cause data loss. If you have backups of databases stored in the cloud, you can quickly restore all the data.
- Improve time-to-market: with cloud computing, telecom companies can deliver their products and services faster, because they no longer have to procure individual pieces of hardware for each function in the network. They can now develop network functions from the outset as software and run them on servers hosted in a cloud environment.
- Cut expenses: in terms of cost economics, cloud reduces the operating expense of a company setting up and managing its own data center. This includes various costs associated with hardware, software, servers, energy bills, IT experts, etc. With cloud infrastructure, a telecom company simply pays only for services it uses.
- Enhance customer experience: cloud computing helps telecom operators minimize latency, strengthen security, provide automated customer support, predict customer preferences, and offer new omnichannel digital experiences.
- Enable network automation: cloud helps automate today’s manual processes regarding designing and testing new network components; deploying, orchestrating, and monitoring networks. This becomes possible thanks to continuous integration, continuous testing, and continuous deployment. Modern networks are able to analyze their performance and respond to issues in real-time that only boosts customer satisfaction.
- Make use of data: telecom companies process huge volumes of customer data. And cloud enables operators to drive valuable insights from this data with the help of data science and data analytics. As a result, telcos can use these insights to further improve their operations. For example, during the pandemic, telecom operators provide data to monitor how people and crowds are spreading the virus.
- Generate new revenue streams: telecom operators can monetize their physical infrastructures by partnering with cloud service providers. Until recently, operators and hyperscalers were seen as competitors. But partnerships between telecommunications companies and cloud providers will only support further market growth. Telcos can offer their infrastructures to cloud providers to help them get closer to customers at the edge by launching platform solutions dedicated to telecoms infrastructure and integrate directly with 5G networks.
- The latest of such solutions include: Wavelength from AWS, Azure Edge Zones from Microsoft and Anthos for Telecom from Google Cloud.
Several new telco-cloud collaboration announcements in the last few weeks:
- Telefonica signed a collaboration agreement with Microsoft for Azure Private Edge Zone, combining private 5G connections from Telefonica with Azure edge computing capabilities on the customer premise. (May 11)
- Vodafone expanded on existing work with Google Cloud to create a six-year partnership to jointly build a new integrated data platform to help Vodafone “more quickly offer its customers new, personalized products and services across multiple markets” (May 3)
- Dish Network, a greenfield open RAN-based operator in the U.S., agreed to build its 5G core network on AWS: Local Zones to support low latency, Outposts to extend capabilities to customer premises, Graviton2-based instances for compute workloads, and EKS to run containerized workloads. (April 21)
- Google Cloud and AT&T announced a collaboration to help enterprises take advantage of Google Cloud’s technologies and capabilities using AT&T network connectivity at the edge, including 5G. Additionally, AT&T and Google Cloud intend to deliver a portfolio of 5G edge computing solutions that bring together AT&T’s network, Google Cloud’s leading technologies, and edge computing to help enterprises address real business challenges.
The cloud service providers are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to go after business in the telecom vertical. Moreover, they are also partnering with the traditional vendors to the telecom vertical to develop joint offerings. Nokia announced three such deals last quarter, one each with AWS, Azure and GCP. There are many other examples. NEC and AWS teamed up in 2019 on a mobile core solution, for instance, and Amdocs has collaborations in place with each of the big three. Just last month Amdocs won a digital transformation deal at Singapore’s M1 which leverages their Azure relationship.
Matt Walker, founder and Chief Analyst of MTN Consulting LLC wrote in a Fierce Telecom article: “Whether the cloud players are competitors, partners, suppliers or all of those, they’re going to continue to reshape telecom’s landscape for years to come.”
Telco’s Move from Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) to Cloud Native Core Networks:
With VNFs, many network operators (e.g. AT&T) have automated portions of their infrastructures. But to satisfy new performance demands and meet the needs of modern customers, telcos are now migrating to fully cloud-native infrastructures.
Cloud-native network functions (CNFs) are a new way of providing a required network functionality using containers.
CNFs are dynamic, flexible, and easily scaled, making them a favored solution in the transition to 5G. While a VM with its own operating system may consume several gigabytes of storage space, a container might only be tens of megabytes in size. Therefore, a single server can host more containers than VMs, significantly boosting data-center efficiency while reducing equipment, maintenance, power, and other costs.
In the near future, it is expected that many of the deployments on the road to 5G will consist of a mix of CNFs and VNFs as we are now at the transition stage of moving to fully cloud-native architectures.
Image courtesy of N-iX (a Ukraine and Poland based provider of software development outsourcing and professional services)
Here are some suggestions to facilitate telco’s move to cloud native core networks from N-iX:
- Decide on the cloud strategy: choose the best deployment model: public, private, or hybrid clouds, select the most suitable approach: single cloud or multi-cloud, settle on the cloud provider (s).
- Create a clear migration plan: it should include your goals, costs estimates, timelines, services and technology to use, etc.
- Choose a VNF migration strategy: define which network functions need to remain as VMs and which can be re-architected as cloud-native microservices.
- Assess and prioritize your apps, processes, and operations: understand app dependencies; categorize your apps into mission-critical applications, business-critical applications, customer-facing applications, and other non-critical apps; define operations that can be automated; simplify processes so that they consist of fewer steps.
- Adopt microservices architecture: transform your monolith architecture into a number of loosely coupled microservices to be able to quickly develop, test, and deploy new features and fixes without impacting other components of the application.
- Make use of containers: Containers make it easy to move applications between environments while retaining full functionality. They also make it possible to build and run scalable applications across public, private, and hybrid clouds.
- Leverage edge computing: edge computing is among the top telecom trends. Telcos should make use of edge networks to reduce latency and improve network performance by bringing workloads closer to the users who need to access them. As opposed to the content delivery network (CDN), which is considered to be the predecessor of edge computing and only stores cached data, edge networks, by contrast, can accommodate a wider array of functionality (they can store and process data in real-time) and device types.
Nokia is a strong supporter of Cloud Native. Here’s what they say:
For 5G, service providers need more from cloud. Cloud must be re-architected to cloud-native so that they can get breakthrough business agility in rapidly onboarding new apps and deploying & operating new services.
The scale of 5G brings many more devices and a very diverse mix of services, there’s no way legacy operations can keep up, they need much more automation, especially for slicing. 5G brings new performance demands, so the cloud needs to move towards the edge, for the sake of low-latency, localized reliability, and traffic steering; for that CSP need cloud-native’s efficiency.