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5G Functions in the Cloud? Test Advancements Ensure Performance Not Left to Chance

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The undeniable efficiency, speed and near-term cost savings associated with moving 5G virtual network functions (VNFs) to the cloud makes it a potential path operators must explore. Learn why this approach is not without risks and which testing practices help overcome these challenges.

For starters, it’s completely unproven. As we covered in a previous post, even 15 years of competent, scaled web app hosting hasn’t fully prepared stakeholders for this moment. It’s not a question of will it work but, rather, can it meet stringent operator standards for performance?

Big clouds are a big business with a substantial portion of the internet’s workloads depending on them. But as consumers, we know they’re not perfect. Outages happen. And when they do, it feels like the world grinds to a halt.

So how can operators harness the best of what the cloud can offer but with highly predictable outcomes? That’s the million (billion?) dollar question! And it’s on everyone’s minds.

Notably, this has become a two-way street. As hyperscalers compete fiercely for telco business, they too have a vested interest in demonstrating that the infrastructure they are providing is up to the task of supporting the latest 5G features and capabilities.

And, of course, the network vendors developing the VNFs need to make sure they are just as bulletproof as what’s been deployed on hardened infrastructure for decades.

All are turning to the latest advancements in testing to sort through this complexity and come the closest they’ll be able to get to having a crystal ball.

Early days but already important lessons learned

We are still at the initial stages of testing with customers. Every engagement on this front requires an ongoing test and validation strategy, each bringing unique requirements and demanding a customized approach.

That said, from the early work we’re doing, we have already identified common testing practices that are likely to be a cornerstone of the due diligence cycles most operators will be undertaking as they explore 5G VNF cloud opportunities. They include:

  • Testing impairments between cloud data center and operator networks: Network impairments like latency and packet loss are not uncommon in mobile networks but can potentially wreak havoc in cloud-based deployments. Testing impacts of these conditions simultaneously on multiple network flows can provide insight into how the end user experience may be affected and shed light on remediation strategies.

  • Making accommodations to overcome lab testing limitations: L2 to L4 application flows tend not to exceed 10Gb/s but must be tested over 100G connections to emulate data center environments. This requires establishing high port density for testing of simultaneous flows, a capability Spirent has recently made available for customers.

  • Modeling the 5G network to understand extent of network impairments: It is important to understand the impact that precise values of network impairments that are likely to materialize such as latency, packet loss and jitter to ensure timely, accurate testing and support strategic planning. Spirent’s deep 5G testing expertise has been proven to help customers hit the ground running quickly as it has already undertaken a range of related projects.

Real results for real world problems

We recently worked with a tier-one VNF vendor eager to explore the feasibility of hosting 5G VNFs in the cloud in support of a major operator deployment. We set out to tackle the initial testing steps noted above by providing up to eight 100 GbE interfaces and any-port-to-any-port functionality, supporting a variety of L2 to L4 flows that could be tested over an emulated 100G connection. Combined with Spirent test solution’s ability to capture key data points about 5G networks, we were able to model a typical 5G network for the vendor to integrate to their testing, enabling them to start testing activities earlier than anticipated.

The result of this engagement was a faster and more successful integration of the vendor’s VNF solution, successful performance risk mitigation for both the vendor and operator, and the delivery of expected quality of service meeting end user performance expectations.

We will continue to share more insights into our work with vendors, operators and hyperscalers as these initiatives continue. In the meantime, learn about the latest network impairment and emulation solutions.

Guest contributors: David Robertson, Product Manager & Peter Whitten, Business Development Manager, Calnex Solutions

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Malathi Malla
Malathi Malla

Malathi Malla leads Cloud, Data Center and Virtualization segment for Spirent. Responsible for the Product Marketing, Technical Marketing, and Product Management, she drives go-to-market strategy across Cloud and IP solutions. She has over 14 years of hi-tech experience at both Silicon Valley start-ups and large companies including Citrix, IBM, Sterling Commerce (software division of AT&T), Comergent Technologies. Malathi also represents Spirent as Marketing prime through various open source communities like Open Networking Foundation and OpenDayLight. Join the conversation and connect with Malathi on LinkedIn or follow on her on Twitter at @malathimalla.