IT vendors targeting the communications service provider (CSP) community are increasingly promoting the benefits of microservices architectures, seeking to convince CSPs that they need to invest in a new architectural framework if they are to effectively support continuous innovation. However, many CSPs are still not ready to make the move.
On the one hand, the potential benefits are clear. As more CSPs adopt DevOps, it becomes possible to take the next step to a cloud-native approach. The implementation of a microservices architecture and containerization enables the continuous delivery of large, complex applications as loosely coupled services, thus enabling shorter innovation cycles, increased agility, improved scalability, and reduced opex.
With this in mind, most telco IT vendors are seeking to make themselves microservices-ready. At this year's TM Forum Live! conference, most vendors seemed to be pitching the progress they had made on this front. For example, Netcracker was highlighting the cloud-native and microservices-based elements of its new Netcracker 12 portfolio, Nokia and Amdocs were both promoting their cloud-native strategies and quoting lively timelines for the shift of various elements to a microservices architecture, and vendors such as HPE and Oracle were delivering progress updates or product announcements.
But where are CSPs on this journey? Here it is more of a mixed story. Some of the tier-0 operators, such as Vodafone, are pressing on full speed ahead, but it's often the same major operators that have made progress with cloud and virtualization initiatives. At the aforementioned TM Forum Live! event, Vodafone's chief IT systems architect shared the "Vodafone Ocean" group-wide network virtualization story, highlighting the progress that had been made with the operator's shift to a microservices architecture and cloud-native approach. This is all part of Vodafone's drive to transform its global network into a shared resource and platform on which applications can be speedily built.
However, many CSPs are nowhere near that stage. This is not surprising given that SDN/NFV adoption has already opened up a gap between the key early adopters, such as AT&T and Telefonica, and a relatively large silent majority that is moving more slowly. The timing for a microservices and containerization push is not ideal given that most CSPs are still trying to get their heads around virtualization and the move to the cloud.
A microservices approach also requires other elements to be in place, such as DevOps, and yet many CSPs still don't have these necessary building blocks in place because they are wary of the radical cultural change required, such as breaking down legacy organizational silos and getting to grips with new paradigms such as open source.
None of this will stop the adoption of microservices architectures in its tracks, but it will impact the timescales for adoption. This is partly why, to help move things forward, many vendors are expanding their professional services capabilities to encompass cloud enablement, agile development and DevOps, and the development of cloud-native infrastructures. With a little hand-holding, the CSP shift to microservices-based architectures will come, especially if vendors remember to stress the business benefits. But for the reasons mentioned above, Ovum is expecting the migration of CSPs to microservices architectures to be a relatively gradual one.
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