Scalable management of virtualized RAN with Kubernetes


Written by Victor Bahl, Microsoft Technical Fellow and Chief Technology Officer, Azure for Operators


Among the many important reasons why telecommunication companies should be attracted to Microsoft Azure are our network and system management tools. Azure has invested many intellectual and engineering cycles in the development of a sophisticated, robust framework that manages millions of servers and several hundred thousand network elements distributed in over one hundred and forty countries around the world. We have built tools and expertise to maintain these systems, use AI to predict problem areas and solve them before they become issues, and provide transparency in the performance and efficiency of a very large and complicated system.


At Microsoft, we believe these tools and expertise can be repurposed to manage and optimize telecommunication infrastructure as well. This is because the evolving infrastructure for telecommunication operators includes elements of edge and cloud computing that lend themselves well to global management. In this article, I will describe some of the more interesting technologies that fit into the management of a cloud-based telecommunications infrastructure.


Up and running in just a few clicks

If you want to set up a 5G cellular site, there are a few key requirements. After gathering and interconnecting your hardware (servers, network switches, cables, power supplies, and other components), you then plug in your edge server machines to power and networking outlets. Each machine will be accessible via a standards-based board management controller (BMC) that usually runs a lightweight operating system, Linux, for example, to remotely manage the machine via the network.


When powered up, the BMC will obtain an IP address, most likely from a networked DHCP server. Next, an Azure VPN Gateway will be instantiated—this is a Microsoft Azure-managed service that is deployed into an Azure Virtual Network (VNet), and provides the endpoint for VPN connectivity for point-to-site VPNs, site-to-site VPNs, and Azure ExpressRoute. This gateway is the connection point into Azure from either the on-premises network (site-to-site) or the client machine (point-to-site). Using private VNet peering allows Azure to talk to the BMC on each machine.


Once this is working, the network operator can enable scripts that talk to the BMC via Azure to run automatically and can install the basic input/output system (BIOS) and proper software operating system (OS) images on the machine. Once these edge machines have an OS, a Kubernetes (K8s) cluster can be created, encompassing multiple machines by using tools such as Kubeadm. The K8s cluster is connected to Microsoft Azure Arc so that workloads can be scheduled onto the cluster using Azure APIs.


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