Deploying and managing 5G Network Functions and edge applications on a massive scale across multiple cloud vendors and edge clusters has been a daunting challenge for many of our customers. This process involves extensive planning, spanning months, to identify and provision the necessary infrastructure, network functions, and their configurations. The management of deployments, including day zero (0), day one (1) & day two (2) configurations, becomes a substantial task, particularly when dealing with systems at scale, each having its own set of automation tools. 

Before any significant deployment, we typically observe product design and customer service teams dispersed across various regions collaborate using numerous spreadsheets, word documents, and other tools to document the configuration values. These values eventually find their way into Helm charts or other YAML files, serving as inputs to standalone scripts or localized pipelines. Coordinating between different teams to ensure the correct configuration is applied to production deployments proves to be a significant challenge. 

There is often some coupling between the network function and the cloud platform or workload cluster it can run on. So, different Network Vendors employ unique provisioning mechanisms, each equipped with its APIs and SDKs.  And as service providers expand to additional cloud providers and workload clusters, the complexity multiplies. Despite the adoption of various cloud-native technologies, we have observed customers spending months deploying network functions to production. 

So, having a unified automation framework with common components and common workflows with standardized templates can significantly reduce many of the above problems and that solution is Nephio! 

 

What is Nephio? 

Nephio, as its goal states, is to deliver a carrier-grade, simple and open Kubernetes based cloud native intent automation. It achieves this goal by implementing a single unified platform for automation using an intent-based and declarative configuration with active reconciliation. 

 

Features of Nephio 

  • Kubernetes as underlying platform – Kubernetes as the fundamental underlying platform with its orchestration capabilities.
  • Intent Driven – It is an approach based on high-level goals rather than detailed instructions. For instance, deploy a network function rather than providing step-by-step instructions to provision a NF. Nephio enables users to articulate high-level objectives transitioning away from manual granular configurations. This intent-driven approach simplifies network function automation, making it user-friendly and less error-prone.
  • Declarative & CaD – The automation is declarative with the help of Configuration-as-Data; it understands the user’s intent and helps setup the cloud and edge workloads. Configurations are managed in a standard way by kpt packaging. A declarative system is one which continuously evaluate current state with intended state and reconcile to realize the intended state.
  • Reconciliation – Control loop to ensure the running state always matches with the declaration and avoid any configuration drift. This is achieved by powerful Kubernetes CRD extensions and operator patterns.
  • Distributed Actuation – Distributed management of workloads so that the system is resilient. For example, CRD in edge cluster to manage workloads deployed on edge.
  • Gitops at heart – Nephio enables version control, collaboration and compliance, making network function management both efficient and transparent by embracing the principles of Gitops. 

 

Nephio’s approach to tackling complexity. 

Nephio is designed to handle the complexity of multi-vendor, multi-site deployments efficiently. Its Kubernetes-based framework acts as a unified control plane, offering a standardized method to manage different network functions irrespective of the underlying vendor or site-specific peculiarities. This uniform approach eliminates the need for bespoke solutions for each vendor, streamlining the entire process. 

By centralizing the management of network functions across various sites, Nephio enables seamless coordination and deployment, ensuring consistency and reducing the risk of configuration drift. 

One of the key innovations of Nephio is its adoption of machine-manipulable configurations. This approach facilitates automated, programmable, and repeatable configurations, which are crucial in managing complex network environments. 

 

Nephio Architecture for sample 5G Core deployment on multi-vendor cloud platforms
Figure 1: Nephio Architecture for sample 5G Core deployment on multi-vendor cloud platforms

 

How does Nephio fit with existing orchestration solutions?

Nephio primarily focuses on domain and infrastructure orchestration in conformance with O-RAN and 3GPP, with the help of Kubernetes and its CRDs. It will complement many of the existing open-source projects like ONAP in service orchestration to provide an e2e automation in telecommunication networking.

Changing every existing automation layer is not feasible. However, integration with Nephio is possible for any Kubernetes-based systems that work with KRM. We know today most of the cloud-native deployments use helm charts, which produces a manifest that cannot alter on runtime, making reconciliation a difficult choice. With Nephio, Network Vendors can still use their helm charts to provision network functions by implementing a helm operator; though it will not reap all the benefits of Nephio, it certainly can facilitate organizations to adopting Nephio swiftly.

 

Zinkworks and Nephio 

Zinkworks is currently engaged in dynamic research efforts focused on Nephio, which involves the implementation and execution of a diverse range of use cases across multiple cloud platforms. Our partnership with Google enables us to provide unparalleled expertise and support for Nephio projects. Through our collaboration with industry leaders, we are well-positioned to deliver cutting-edge solutions and drive innovation in the field of Nephio. Learn how your business can leverage Nephio by speaking with our Zinkworks team, contact marketing@zinkworks.com

 

References https://nephio.org/