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What does “carrier-grade” mean?

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In telecommunications, the term ‘carrier-grade’ suggests that a class of product performs with a consistent, high-level of quality, reliability, and availability. If someone promises you a "carrier-grade experience", you are getting a tier of product that offers the best experience currently possible.

In the past, high availability characterized a carrier-grade network experience, often quoted as 99.999% uptime. However, expectations for cloud-based technology networks evolved to include a more robust set of features such as scalability, security, stability, manageability, and sustainability. These expectations come from the potential of cloud-native technology and methodologies to provide better performance and agility.

While there isn’t an industry standard definition of "carrier-grade," in practice these features define the delivery of a carrier-grade experience:

  • Availability. Using cloud-native infrastructure and an application platform to ensure the performance and reliability of service provider workloads.  
  • Scalability. Being able to quickly and dynamically respond to changes in demand.
  • Security. Implementing security throughout the entire application lifecycle, which is dependent on a hardened platform with an integrated and layered security focus.
  • Stability. Adopting cloud-native methodologies such as continuous delivery and continuous integration (CI/CD) to mitigate the stability risk inherent with high velocity software changes.
  • Manageability. Applying continued management of several software components and applications throughout their life cycle with minimal service interruption.
  • Sustainability. Utilizing technology to control power consumption, resulting in energy use optimization that meets a service provider’s sustainability targets.

Telecommunication customers expect service providers to create a carrier-grade experience, mandated by a service level agreement (SLA). Service providers also use the provision of a carrier-grade experience as a way to differentiate themselves within a highly competitive marketplace. 

As more people, businesses, and governments rely on service provider networks to access, use, or provide essential services, delivering a carrier-grade experience had to evolve past basic "uptime" expectations.

Key criteria for the delivery of a cloud-native carrier-grade experience 

These features are essential for any service provider looking to deliver a carrier-grade experience using cloud-native technology:

  • A high level of performance - The experience includes  features and capabilities that increase throughput, reduce latency, and enhance the underlying hardware resources for optimal utilization.
  • Agility and flexibility - The experience rests on a network optimized for container-based applications that take advantage of the underlying operating system’s security capabilities, and is fully integrated into a continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) process.
  • Centralized end-to-end management - The experience includes the ability to centrally manage capabilities across all aspects of a network, from centralized data centers to the very edge of the network.

These key criteria can be delivered using a unified application platform and application design process.

Operational consistency, and the ability to scale and maintain a carrier-grade level of performance, requires an application platform that can make use of both public and private clouds.  

The platform’s operating system (OS) must deliver many of the carrier-grade criteria, and provide a common and consistent security baseline for building, running, and deploying applications and workloads in any cloud environment. 

In addition, service providers need to employ a rigorous and comprehensive vendor application validation and certification process to be confident they are integrating applications that have been built using cloud-native best practices and will not compromise performance. These key criteria are necessary to meet the service providers stringent service and experience expectations, and to rely upon the platform’s features and operational capabilities. 

Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® establishes a stable foundation to support hybrid cloud agility and innovation. Service providers can deploy applications and critical workloads more efficiently with a consistent experience across physical, virtual, public and private cloud environments, and edge deployments.

Service providers can transform legacy applications and develop new cloud-native applications using Red Hat® OpenShift®, an application platform powered by Kubernetes. It provides everything needed to build, deploy, manage, and scale any traditional or cloud-native application in a consistent way across any environment.

Red Hat has developed a diverse and vibrant ecosystem, and has formed many partnerships with industry leaders to provide multivendor solutions for service providers. Some of our telecommunications partners include: Accenture, Atos, Cisco, Ericsson, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel, Juniper networks, Nokia, and Samsung.