So what does Red Hat have to do with Cloud RAN

Posted on Nov 7, 2022 by Kashif Islam and Syed Hassan
RAN 5G Red Hat OpenShift

Redhat is not a mobile network equipment vendor. RedHat does not provide the antenna, the RU, the BBU or any of its decomposed components - the DU and CU. It does not have any components of the mobile core in its portfolio either. So really, what does Red Hat have to do with Cloud RAN?

The answer lies in the virtualization and cloudification of the 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 micro services and cloud-native nature of virtualized RAN (as well the mobile core), there is a need for a common horizontal cloud platform that can span the entire mobile network i.e. the Cell Site, Far Edge Data Centers, Edge Data Centers and Regional/National Data Centers. This cloud platform also needs to fulfill the unique and specific needs of orchestrating, managing, and monitoring the cloud native RAN functions running (i.e. vDU and vCU) as well as the 5G Core functions such as AMF, UPF, SMF, PCF, etc. Red Hat OpenShift meets all of these requirements for a horizontal cloud platform. The figure shows an overview of OpenShift, which offers to fulfills this role across the entire Mobile Communication Network:

Red Hat OpenShift

Kubernetes had originally started as an internal project by Google to tackle the challenge of orchestrating and managing a large number of containers. Later, it was open sourced and made available to the community. Red Hat has been one of the largest contributors to the open source Kubernetes project. While Kubernetes is a community maintained project, Red Hat has taken it a step further by productizing it as OpenShift - a product built to be robust, scalable, and highly resilient. Not only does it offer a Service Provider grade Kubernetes distribution, but it’s also backed up by Red Hat’s decades of expertise. OpenShift is Kubernetes - but with added capabilities and features required by a production grade service provider cloud platform. The following figure gives a high level overview of how Red Hat OpenShift enhances the Kubernetes picture:

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

Security - Vanilla Kubernetes doesn’t have robust security features built into it. The foundations are laid out through the use of features such as roles and rolebindings, but it falls quite short of what a commercial grade orchestrator would require. OpenShift fills this gap and provides a well secured environment. Some details about this can be found at this site

GUI based management - Command line interface and use of Application Programmable Interfaces (API) are essential for automating and scripting tasks, but they are not a substitute for Graphical interfaces that can offer a quick visual monitoring and management mechanism. In fact, most API based monitoring tools present their findings using some sort of visual dashboard. While Kubernetes doesn’t have any built-in management interface, OpenShift offers an intuitive and easy to use visual interface that fills that gap.

DevOps support - Support for DevOps tools comes out of the box with OpenShift. This makes it possible to follow the Continuous Integration & Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) development model - widely used to achieve faster time to market.

Fully Integrated and tested - Kubernetes as a community-maintained tool is flexible and while it defines the interface for Networking, Storage, etc. it doesn’t dictate the use of any particular plugin for those. 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 up by dedicated support. OpenShift offers that through the use of the Operator framework.

Cluster management - Kubernetes doesn’t include any 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 interface that cluster management requires. Red Hat offers a scalable and powerful cluster management tool through Advanced Cluster Management (ACM). More details on Red Hat ACM are available here.

Some more details about what OpenShift offers can be found at the following links:

Hybrid Cloud and Mobile Networks

The rise of hyperscalers, like AWS, Azure, GCP, etc. to name a few, offered a very lucrative option for enterprises to move their applications into public cloud and drastically reduce the capital expenditure, shorten time to market, and offload their IT infrastructure. Mobile providers also saw value in adopting public cloud for similar benefits. The move towards virtualization and cloudification of mobile functions - in both RAN and Packet Core - was already making many, though not all, functions to be a good fit for public cloud. Although not all of these containerized functions were built to be truly cloud-native, and some were not well suited for public cloud (e.g. vDU). Nevertheless, mobile providers implementing 5G have been considering or, in some cases, even implementing part of the mobile network using public cloud. One of the first examples of utilizing public cloud is Dish Networks, with its 5GC and part of the RAN (vCU, specifically) hosted in public cloud. Although even in Dish Networks' case the vDUs are hosted using an on-prem private cloud, making it one of the first examples of a hybrid (public+private) cloud approach to implement a mobile network. Others are considering similar approaches with some variations.

Such deployment with cloud-native, or containerized, mobile functions over hybrid cloud environments create the added requirement for the horizontal cloud platforms to stretch between public and private cloud while still providing a common, seamless, and efficient way to orchestrate, manage, and monitor the entire mobile ecosystem. Once again, Red Hat makes this possible and provides various flavors of OpenShift for on-prem, 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 summarize, 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 blog of the series will explore the various form factors of OpenShift deployment and the considerations for their placement at various locations in a mobile network.