Rod Makin, Sr. Director, Product Lifecycle Management, NetNumber

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak virtually at the 5G World Summit held both online and in person in London.  My remarks focused on implementing CI/CD in telecoms, which is a hot topic in the industry.  I’ve summarized my presentation below on how CI/CD works.

CI/CD in telecom is all about the collaboration between the vendor and the customer.  To date, telcos have sometimes avoided major updates to the platforms in their networks, not because they wanted to stagnate, but because they could be costly, labor intensive and more to the point risky.

The CI/CD philosophy is to mitigate such big changes by making the updates more frequently in an automated fashion and to get feedback to allow immediate remediate activities.  This is a real collaborative engagement that has benefits for our customers, our products and the subscribers that ultimately use the services.

In addition to this, one of the main drivers for CI/CD is the move to 5G. The 5G architecture uses containerized network functions to implement the mobile core. This means that rapid scaling can occur to meet the demand of the network. Container instances of a specific network function can be created or removed from the overall infrastructure to balance the demand against the resources that are servicing it. By the very nature of containers they can be small, potentially they’re a fraction of a servers resources.

Telco operators can no longer plan an upgrade to their services based on the geographical location of the servers. Not only because the network functions are no longer fixed to specific servers, or even a geographical location, but also because there can be hundreds or even thousands of containers performing these network functions at anyone time, and they can appear and disappear as the workload changes.

Consequently, the entire approach to upgrading as needed to change for the Telcos, this gives us the WHY we need CICD.

The HOW of the process begins with continuous integration, or CI, in which we utilize Agile developed methodology to make smaller increments in the software functionality that is planned, built and tested in iterative increments. The plan code build test is the practice of integrating development changes into a product as early as possible.  In the best cases, it might be several times a day. Then when you combine this with automated testing, continuous integration can make the process more dependable.

With continuous delivery, the software code base is consistently kept in a state where it’s deployable at any point. This goes beyond simply ensuring that the software passes the automated testing, but includes that the software is being packaged with all the configuration necessary to push this into the customer at any point. This requires a secure connection to an internal repository within the customer network.

Once the latest artefacts are available they can go through Continuous testing where the software goes through the process of executing automated tests within the customer lab environment. Any deployment issues or automated acceptance test failures can immediately be reported back to the software team. This part of the software delivery pipeline is a shot at the feedback loop on the business risks associated with the software releases. The intention is to enable fixes and updates to be done based on the immediate feedback from a Lab deployment.

And finally, continuous deployment (CD), which is closely related to continuous integration and refers to keeping your application deployable at any point or even automatically releasing it to a production environment if the latest version passes all the automated tests.  This process automatically deploys the validated software into a production environment.  The driver here is to automate deployment resulting in repeatability few mistakes and increasing the speed of the upgrades to minimize or eventually achieve zero downtime for the operator.

The benefits of the CI/CD approach are clear for both the telcom operator and the vendors.  Send me a note via if you’d like to learn more or discuss further.


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