How Containers at the Edge Can Accelerate the 5G Rollout
Containers and cellular networking are not usually part of the same conversation. Although both are important technologies, the use of containers in the cellular and telco space has been fleeting, so far.
But that could change thanks to the challenges posed by the rise of 5G networks. In several respects, containers are the perfect solution for making good on the promises of 5G – so much so that, going forward, we’re likely to hear terms like “containers,” “Kubernetes” and “5G” all used in the same sentences, frequently.
Capitalizing on 5G’s Promise
To understand how containers and 5G are poised to go hand-in-hand, you must first recognize the challenges that application delivery teams face as they look to take advantage of the opportunities introduced by 5G.
Those challenges boil down largely to the fact that fully capitalizing on 5G requires two main ingredients. The first is building the actual infrastructure that will power 5G networks. Telecommunications companies are already hard at work on this task, which is relatively straightforward in that it involves rolling out new physical and virtual hardware.
The second, somewhat more complicated task is to establish application deployment patterns that allow the applications to take full advantage of the performance and reliability benefits of 5G networks.
In theory, those benefits include:
- Bandwidth rates of 1 gigabit or more
- Latency rates as low as 1 millisecond
- Minimal consumption of power (a reduction of as much as 90 percent compared to 4G) and other hardware resources
- Availability on the order of 99.999 percent
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It’s one thing to build the infrastructure that makes those benefits possible. It’s another to deploy applications in a way that actually takes advantage of them.
And that’s where containers come in…
How Containers Can Accelerate the Jump to 5G
In several key respects, containerized applications stand to enable 5G networks to take full advantage of 5G’s features.
Lower power consumption
One of the chief selling-points of containers has always been their lower resource consumption as compared to traditional hypervisors. Because containers don’t waste system resources running a complete operating system, they consume less memory, CPU and so on – and, by extension, less energy. In this way, containers allow 5G applications to double-down on the energy efficiency offered by 5G networks.
A related advantage of containers is their ability to optimize application performance by eliminating much of the overhead that traditional virtualization requires. Fewer resources spent on overhead means more resources available for the application itself, which in turn translates to better performance. In this way, too, containers help ensure that applications can perform quickly enough to take full advantage of the high bandwidth and low latency rates of 5G.
Matching 5G’s availability
Running your application on a 5G network that offers 99.999 percent availability is useful only if your applications can match that availability rate.
Because containerized applications – when coupled with an automated orchestration framework like Kubernetes – can be deployed in a redundant fashion (so that multiple instances are available to keep the application up in the event that one instance fails), and with automated restarts in case of failure, they are well positioned to deploy applications in ways that meet the ultra-high availability goals of 5G.
G network workload migration
You can’t take advantage of 5G’s features if you can’t move your applications from legacy networks to 5G in the first place. Nor can you take advantage of improvements in 5G that appear over time – which they will, because 5G is not a fixed standard, but rather a broad innovation that will evolve steadily over time.
On this front, the portability benefits of containers come in handy. Because containers require only a runtime to work, rather than an operating system and environment tailored to each application’s needs, containerized applications are easy to move from one infrastructure to another without having to reconfigure or rebuild the application. This means that, once you containerize an application, you can move it from 4G to 5G with ease – or from one 5G infrastructure to another as opportunities within the 5G space itself shift.
Last but not least are the scalability innovations that containers provide. 5G networks promise to be able to handle as many as one hundred times more connections per node than 4G. This means that 5G networks can support a new magnitude of scale in terms of the size of application deployments.
To take advantage of this scalability, however, applications must be deployed and managed in a streamlined and efficient manner. Containers enable these characteristics through features like automated rollout via Helm charts and large-scale, systematic monitoring through frameworks like Prometheus. These tools remove the need to manage different deployment and monitoring processes for each workload, which severely hampers scalability.
Some businesses are already turning to containers to facilitate their 5G rollout, and analysts see them as key to capitalizing on the operational efficiencies of the next generation of cellular infrastructure. It’s a safe bet that these trends will continue as more organizations look to containers to bridge the gaps between the theory and reality surrounding 5G.