Microservices: How ‘Cloud Native’ Are Network Vendors Today?

David Snow - Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure
David Snow – Principal Analyst, IP Services Infrastructure

Summary Bullets:

  • ‘Cloud native’ is the new virtualization mantra, often used to highlight the characteristics of applications designed for the cloud from the start.
  • A host of smaller network vendors are already claiming to be ‘microservices-based,’ a key attribute of being ‘cloud native.’ Larger vendors need to be careful not to lag behind.

It could hardly have escaped anyone’s notice at the SDN World Congress in The Hague this October that ‘cloud native’ is the new mantra in describing virtualized network functions (VNFs). Hardly a discussion or presentation from either operator or vendor took place without mentioning the term at least once. Generally, the term ‘cloud native’ highlights the differences between simply converting physical network function-based software into VNFs and creating VNFs ‘designed for the cloud’ from the start.

So far, so good, but then the discussion turns to what the phrase ‘designed for the cloud’ itself means. Here, the attribute list runs as follows (more or less in order of emphasis):

  1. Microservices-based (as opposed to monolithic)
  2. Stateless (that is, with state data removed to enable easier scaling, failover, upgrade, etc.)
  3. ‘Orchestratable’ (if that’s a word – able to be on-boarded and managed in an automated manner)

… And the list could go on.

But, for this blog, let’s just stop at #1, and think about ‘microservices-based.’

Even here, there are many unanswered questions as to what constitutes a microservice:

  • If a vendor talks about decomposing its VNF into a microservices architecture, does that immediately disqualify the VNF as a genuine microservice since it is not ‘designed for the cloud’ from the start?
  • At what level of granularity is a microservice expected to operate, and how does it sit in a microservices-based architecture?
  • Does the microservice have responsibility for its own data or is it devolved?
  • How far down the road does a vendor need to go in terms of being able to sell a portfolio of microservices?

In answer to the last question, some vendors, like Metaswitch, see themselves as already ‘open for microservices business.’ Judging from recent publicity, other smaller vendors such as Sonus Networks and Dialogic would likely also place themselves in the same position. Larger vendors, however, expect it will take a few years to fully re-architect their admittedly wider application portfolios to microservices architecture, while in the meantime, they report operators being comfortable purchasing the existing generation of VNFs. That may be so, but the larger vendors need to provide the market with regular updates on their ‘cloud native’ progress by, for example, publishing a microservices roadmap. If they lose a sense of urgency they run the risk of ceding ‘cloud native’ mindshare to their smaller rivals today and ‘cloud native’ business tomorrow.

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