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What does Red Hat OpenShift have to do with Cloud RAN?

To enable the next generation of cloud-native mobile networks, telcos must establish a reliable horizontal cloud platform.
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Red Hat is not a mobile network equipment vendor. It does not provide the antenna, Radio Unit (RU), baseband unit (BBU), or any of its decomposed components—the Distributed Unit (DU) and Central Unit (CU). It does not have any mobile core functions in its portfolio, either. So really, what does Red Hat OpenShift have to do with Cloud RAN?


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The answer lies in the virtualization and cloudification of mobile functions and infrastructure over the past decade.

Red Hat has been the leading provider of open source tools and platforms for enterprises and service providers over the past several decades. Red Hat has also been the foremost contributor to various open source upstream projects, including Kubernetes, which has become the de-facto standard for container orchestration.

With a shift towards microservices and the cloud-native nature of virtualized RAN (as well as the mobile core), there is a need for a common horizontal cloud platform that can span the entire mobile network, including the cell site, far edge datacenters, edge datacenters, and regional or national datacenters. This cloud platform must also fulfill the unique and specific needs of orchestrating, managing, and monitoring the cloud-native RAN functions (that is, the vDU and vCU) and the 5G Core functions such as the Access and Mobility Management Function (AMF), user plane function (UPF), session management function (SMF), and the policy control function (PCF). This is where Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform comes into the picture.

[ See the deploying telco 5G in public cloud and on-premises environments portfolio architectures for more about these functions. ]

OpenShift meets all of the above-mentioned requirements for a horizontal cloud platform. The following figure shows an overview of OpenShift, which fulfills this role across the entire mobile communication network:

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OpenShift as the horizontal cloud platform
(Kashif Islam and Syed Hassan, CC BY-SA 4.0)

How OpenShift enhances Kubernetes

Kubernetes started as an internal project by Google to tackle the challenge of orchestrating and managing a large number of containers. Later, it was made open source and available to the community.

Red Hat has been the leading contributor to the open source Kubernetes project. While Kubernetes is a community-maintained project, Red Hat has taken it a step further with OpenShift—a Kubernetes product built to be robust, scalable, and highly resilient. It offers a service provider-grade Kubernetes distribution and is backed by Red Hat's decades of expertise. OpenShift is Kubernetes, but with additional capabilities and features required by a production-grade service provider cloud platform.

[ Learn more about how OpenShift and Kubernetes compare. ]

The following figure gives a high-level overview of how OpenShift enhances Kubernetes.

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OpenShift platform choices and components
(Kashif Islam and Syed Hassan, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Here are just a few of the key differentiators that make OpenShift the leading Kubernetes distribution:

Fully integrated and tested: As a community-maintained tool, Kubernetes is flexible, and while it defines the interface for networking, storage, and more, it doesn't dictate the use of any particular plugin for them. That's a perfect approach for a community project but not suited for a service provider-grade orchestrator. Service providers require a well-integrated and well-tested environment backed by dedicated support. OpenShift offers that through the use of the Operator framework.

GUI-based management: Command-line interfaces and application programming interfaces (APIs) are essential for automating and scripting tasks, but they are not a substitute for the graphical interfaces that offer quick visual monitoring and management mechanisms. Most API-based monitoring tools present their findings using a visual dashboard. While Kubernetes doesn't have a built-in management interface, OpenShift provides an intuitive and easy-to-use graphical interface that fills that void.

DevOps support: Support for DevOps tools comes out of the box with OpenShift. This support makes it possible to follow the continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) development model widely used to achieve faster time to market.

Security: Kubernetes on its own doesn't have robust security features built into it. The foundations are laid out using features such as roles and rolebindings, but it falls short of what a commercial-grade orchestrator requires. OpenShift fills this gap and allows options to augment the cloud platform with features that provide a well-secured environment. You can find some details about security on the Red Hat Advanced Cluster Security for Kubernetes site.

Multi-cluster management: Kubernetes doesn't include a cluster-management application. Open source tools can be used for this purpose, but they often fall short and do not offer the full set of capabilities and interfaces that cluster management requires. Red Hat provides a scalable and powerful cluster management tool through Advanced Cluster Management (ACM).

You can find more details about what OpenShift offers at the following links:

Hybrid cloud and mobile network deployments

Hyperscalers, including AWS, Azure, and GCP, are good options for enterprises to move their applications into the public cloud, as they reduce capital expenditure, shorten time to market, and offload their IT infrastructure.

[ How to use cloud hyperscalers to handle 5G traffic demand bursts. ]

Some mobile service providers are also starting to adopt the public cloud for similar benefits. The move towards virtualization and cloudification of mobile functions in both RAN and packet core has already made many of those functions a good fit for the public cloud. Although some containerized functions (such as vDU, due to its latency limitations) are not well suited for public cloud, many of the functions can be placed on public cloud.

Nevertheless, mobile providers implementing 5G have been considering or, in some cases, already implementing part of the mobile network using public cloud. One of the first examples of utilizing the public cloud to deploy mobile networks is Dish Networks, with its 5G Core and part of its RAN (vCU, specifically) hosted in public cloud. However, even Dish Networks hosts the vDUs using an on-premises private cloud, making it one of the first examples of a hybrid cloud approach to implementing a mobile network. Others are considering similar methods with some variations. The image below shows how OpenShift can be used as the horizontal cloud platform in both private and public cloud infrastructure

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Hybrid cloud example
(Kashif Islam and Syed Hassan, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Deployment with cloud-native or containerized mobile functions over hybrid cloud environments also requires the horizontal cloud platforms to stretch between the public and private cloud while still providing a common, seamless, and efficient way to orchestrate, manage, and monitor the entire mobile ecosystem. Red Hat enables this and provides various flavors of OpenShift for on-premises, public, or private cloud deployments. This results in a consistent and uniform end-to-end user experience spanning a hybrid cloud environment for the mobile network.

OpenShift offers the following deployment options to fit hybrid cloud deployment scenarios for telco needs:

[ Try this learning path: Getting started with Red Hat OpenShift Service on AWS (ROSA)

Wrapping up

To summarize, the Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform provides a tested, proven, and reliable horizontal cloud platform enabling the next generation of cloud-native mobile networks. The next article in this series will explore the various form factors of OpenShift deployments and considerations for placing them at different locations in a mobile network.


This article is adapted from So what does Red Hat have to do with Cloud RAN and is republished with permission.

What to read next

Topics:   Telecom   5G   OpenShift   Kubernetes  

Kashif Islam

Kashif Islam is a Principal Telecommunication Architect in Red Hat's consulting organization. He helps service providers transform their existing mobile infrastructure into next-generation cloud-native 5G networks.  More about me

Syed F. Hassan

Syed F. Hassan is a Principal Telecommunications Architect at Red Hat, providing consultancy services to 5G service providers globally. More about me

Navigate the shifting technology landscape. Read An architect's guide to multicloud infrastructure.

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