Bringing automation to telco edge clouds at scale

Canonical and Spectro Cloud have collaborated to develop an effective telco edge cloud solution, Cloud Native Execution Platform (CNEP). CNEP is built with Canonical’s open source infrastructure solutions and Spectro Cloud’s Palette containers-as-a-service (CaaS) platform. This technology stack empowers operators to benefit from the cost optimisation and agility improvements delivered by edge clouds in a highly secure and performant way.

Through a single pane of glass provided by Spectro Cloud Palette, operators can deploy, configure and manage all their telco edge clouds centrally, taking full advantage of Canonical’s infrastructure technology. The joint solution brings automation to deployment and maintenance operations at scale and enables fully cloud-native telco edge clouds.

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With the softwarisation of network services and the adoption of cloud computing in the telco sector, the architecture of mobile networks has evolved significantly. Modern telecom networks are no longer run by all-in-one systems deployed at a central location. Instead, operators can scale their systems and offer their services closer to users, thanks to highly scalable, distributed and cloud-native architectures.

Telco operators increasingly deploy cloud computing systems at the edge of their networks, which are often referred to as edge clouds. According to the IDC spending guide forecast published in February 2023, service providers will invest more than $44 billion in enabling edge offerings in 2023. This trend has emerged due to the change in infrastructure architecture and the evolution of mobile networking software which is now based on components that run on containers as microservices. 

Edge computing is predicted to grow even more, as the technology has brought efficiency, flexibility and scalability to telecom systems in deployment and operation. STL partner’s revenue forecast notes a prediction of $445bn in global demand for edge computing services in 2030. 

Five key requirements for edge cloud success in telco 

To unlock the benefits of cloud computing, operators need an effective infrastructure stack to host cloud-native software on edge clouds. Telco deployments are highly demanding, and so a suitable infrastructure stack should satisfy these five key requirements: 

Autonomous operations

It is critical to minimise operational maintenance for edge clouds. These clouds are large in number, and it is costly to maintain systems manually, especially when they are deployed close to radio equipment where it is impractical for administrators to visit deployment sites physically. The solution is to ensure that edge clouds can be operated in an autonomous manner.

Secure

Telco networks are part of our critical infrastructure, carrying sensitive user data. Systems must comply with all necessary security standards and have hardening measures to safeguard user information.

Minimal but variable in size

A minimal footprint is one of the defining characteristics of an edge cloud. A few server hardware nodes may be all that is needed to set up a small cloud that would run a number of cell sites. That being said, there is no single-size solution – requirements may change based on what an operator intends to run at its edge network. Therefore, infrastructure must be able to scale as and when needed.

Energy efficient

A telco operator typically runs a large number of sites for its radio networks. Even a 2% reduction in energy consumption translates to significant cost savings. This means that the ideal edge cloud solution must be optimised at every layer of its stack and have features that support running and operating only what is needed with no extras. It should also support advanced hardware and software features to reduce power consumption.

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Highly performant

Telco networks must deliver user data quickly and reliably – service quality and reliability depends on it. Solutions at the telco edge must support the latest technology and enhanced features that enable faster delivery of information at every layer of the hardware and software stack.

Challenges

Edge clouds need a software stack that is built with multiple virtualisation technologies, which makes it challenging to integrate and set up a fully functional system. Addressing the five requirements mentioned above with modern open source cloud technologies is a complex task. Despite the clear benefits those technologies bring, there still gaps to fill. Canonical and SpectroCloud worked together to fill these gaps and make the usage of those open source technologies easier and telco-grade. 

Maintaining updates and upgrades in a cloud system is of paramount importance for smooth system operation while ensuring system integrity and security. However, a typical distributed telecom system deployment has many edge sites each running a virtualisation infrastructure. Furthermore, both the virtualisation software and the application workloads that run on a cloud environment have a large set of dependencies. Given this scale and complexity, it is simply not feasible to manually perform updates and upgrades to maintain these systems.

Besides updates and upgrades, operational procedures such as deployment, scaling and runtime maintenance, are highly repetitive across all telco edge cloud sites. Without a scalable system, it is not possible to operate a telco-edge infrastructure in a cost-efficient way.

Automating telco edge clouds at scale

Cloud Native Execution Platform (CNEP), the solution by Canonical and Spectro Cloud, addresses the five key requirements of successful edge clouds when deploying and maintaining their distributed telco cloud infrastructure. It offers a software stack that is efficient, secure, performant and modular.

The technology stack

The solution stack is tailored for the needs of telco edge clouds from bare metal to containers. It consists of Canonical’s Metal-as-a-Service (MAAS) and MicroK8s solutions that together deliver the bare metal performance and orchestration required by the telecom sector while enabling the flexibility and agility of cloud native environments. Integrated with Spectro Cloud’s Palette, the solution provides automation for deployment of Canonical’s cloud native edge cloud stack at scale at multiple edge sites.

Cloud Native Execution Platform (CNEP)

Platform features

This resulting solution, named Cloud Native Execution Platform (CNEP) simplifies onboarding, deployment and management of MicroK8s clusters. MicroK8s is a light-weight, zero-ops and purely upstream CNCF certified Kubernetes distribution by Canonical, with high availability, automatic updates and streamlined upgrades. It is the container orchestrator in CNEP, tailored for telco edge clouds, with optimised performance, scalability, reliability, power efficiency and security. 

CNEP offers an array of features that make it ideally suited to telco use cases.

Multi-site automation

CNEP provides multi-site control, observability, governance and orchestration with zero-downtime upgrades. Through Spectro Cloud Palette, operators can seamlessly deploy, configure and manage all their telco edge clouds from a central location.

Palette not only manages bare metal automation and provisioning with MAAS but also achieves deployment and management of MicroK8s clusters, all through Cluster API (CAPI). It gives operators rich and fine-grained control over their Day 2 operations, such as patching and configuration changes. The platform also provides full observability and role based access control (RBAC) capabilities.

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Repeatable deployments

In CNEP, operators can achieve repeatable and reliable MicroK8s cluster deployments with automation at scale using Palette across multiple geographical sites. With Palette, CNEP achieves decentralised policy enforcement and self-healing for autonomy and resilience at scale. This provides operators with a consistent end-to-end declarative management experience.

Self-healing by Palette in CNEP is achieved by continuously monitoring the state of the deployed MicroK8s cluster at each site and comparing it against the desired cluster state. Any deviation between the two states is addressed by bringing the cluster to the desired state based on policies.

Cloud native, reliable and software defined

CNEP is cloud native and reliable for containerised workloads. MicroK8s supports Cluster API to meet the complex needs of highly distributed edge node onboarding, secure deployment and substrate provisioning. It also supports all popular container networking interfaces (CNI), including Cilium, Calico and Flannel, as well as Kube-OVN as a CNI for software defined networking. 

For management and control of object, block and file storage, MicroK8s integrates with Canonical Charmed Ceph, which is a flexible software-defined storage controller solution. CNEP provides support for these CNIs and Charmed Ceph out of the box.

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Automated hardware at scale

Bare metal hardware provisioning with MAAS enables operators to automate their edge hardware infrastructure, and gain visibility and control over their hardware resources. This provides agility in system deployment with full automation in configuration and operating system deployment. 

MAAS supports CAPI to enable hardware automation operations while deploying and managing MicroK8s clusters. With Palette, CNEP achieves bare metal automation at scale across multiple edge cloud sites through MAAS CAPI.

Secure and compliant

Ubuntu Pro provides security compliance, hardening and auditing, as well as support to the edge cloud infrastructure as a whole and to the cloud native telco workloads running in containers. It provides security patches, hardening profiles, standards compliance and automated CVE patches for an extensive set of open source packages (over 23000). CNEP supports multiple security standards. For instance, both Ubuntu Pro and Palette have conformance to FIPS 140-2.

As CNEP’s container orchestrator, MicroK8s security is mission-critical, and our solution ensures that it is safeguarded. In addition to the security features of Ubuntu Pro, MicroK8s runs in a snap, which is a confined execution environment, effectively isolating it from changes in the host system and other software running on the host. This provides a sandbox environment and protects the container orchestration environment from external threats.

The attack surface is reduced as much as possible to minimise entry points to the platform and protect it from malicious attempts. This is achieved by the opinionated design of MicroK8s, chiselled container images and Ubuntu Core.

MicroK8s has a minimal footprint that includes all necessary components but nothing extra. It is easily extensible with its modular structure as needed. Similarly, chiselled container images include only the packages needed to execute your business applications, without any additional operating system packages or libraries. In constrained environments, Ubuntu has a minimal flavour – Ubuntu Core. This provides operators with an immutable operational environment where the system runs on containerised snaps. 

Besides the security features provided by Canonical’s telco edge cloud stack at each telco site, Spectro Cloud Palette brings additional security capabilities to CNEP. This includes native security scanning for the full deployment stack, conformance scans, and penetration testing. Palette provides further patching and monitoring capabilities, along with role based access control offered as part of CNEP.

Performant

CNEP is highly-performant across the telco infrastructure stack.

At the container orchestration level, MicroK8s supports the latest enhanced platform features that streamline packet delivery between containerised applications and external services. It supports technologies such as GPU acceleration and CPU-pinning.

At the operating system level, Ubuntu Pro brings real-time compute capabilities that meet the stringent requirements of delay-sensitive telco applications and the networking stack. This enables low latency and ultra-reliable communications, which means applications can communicate with users and devices with the fastest possible performance at the OS level.

CNEP runs on bare metal hardware, which makes it ideal for efficiency at the telco edge. Automatic updates provided by Ubuntu Pro’s kernel Livepatch service gives an uninterrupted environment to telco workloads and the networking stack.

Cost-efficient

CNEP is designed to be efficient with minimal energy consumption at the telco edge. 

MicroK8s is modular and can be extensible as necessary; it comes with a sensible set of default modules in place. This enables MicroK8s to be more efficient with the best possible use of system resources. 

Ubuntu Core has the same properties. It is minimal, with services running on snaps, providing a small footprint which consumes much less resources without sacrificing performance.

MAAS enables significant cost reductions on two aspects thanks to its hardware automation capabilities. On one hand, MAAS automates OS provisioning and software deployment on bare metal hardware, reducing operational costs and human errors. On the other hand, system administrators can optimise hardware utilisation based on workload conditions managed by MAAS.

Those automation features are augmented by the multi-site automation capabilities brought by Palette. CNEP achieves cost savings in terms of simplified deployment and management of the edge infrastructure, as engineers no longer need to physically visit deployment sites.

Summary

We are proud to be working alongside Spectro Cloud to introduce CNEP to the market. Powered by Canonical’s industry-leading open source infrastructure solutions, and with automation provided by Palette, CNEP can seamlessly scale across multi-site distributed infrastructure. It is ideal for cloud native telco workloads, edge computing business applications, and mobile networking stack, such as Open RAN CU/DU/RU and distributed 5G user plane. The solution is secure by design thanks to Ubuntu Pro, and highly efficient with support for real-time kernel and other enhanced platform features.

Get in touch 

Canonical provides a full stack for your telecom infrastructure. To learn more about our telco solutions, visit our webpage at ubuntu.com/telco or get in touch.

Learn more

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Safeguarding your telco infrastructure with Ubuntu Pro

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