CNCF readies use cases, best practices for implementing cloud native in 5G transition

March 9 2021
by William Fellows


The Cloud Native Computing Foundation's CNF (cloud-native network functions) working group is developing use cases and best practices for implementing cloud-native approaches in telecommunications as the industry transitions to 5G. It is working on a test bed and conformance program to test and demonstrate different options in conjunction with the CNF Telecom User Group.

The 451 Take

The interconnected world is happening, and will be driven by 5G (or subsequent iterations), edge and IoT. The number of 5G skeptics is dwindling, and 5G is set to be a standout market buildout opportunity. For some, the replacement of Wi-Fi by enterprise 5G, globally, will be an additional result. However, it requires a technical change to applications in order to take advantage of its capabilities, and cloud-native architectures appear most suitable. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) believes it can address this requirement, and its CNF working group is currently defining what 'cloud native' means in telecommunications. A key question to be addressed is how this applies to other applications beyond network functions to edge-specific domains and the intersection of 5G/edge/IoT.


The 5G core is specified to use a service-based architecture to deliver its cornerstone capabilities – three virtual network 'slices' delivered over one physical radio architecture: enhanced broadband, ultra-reliable low-latency communications and massive IoT. This is most practically supported via a microservices architecture that makes use of cloud-native technologies such as containers while using organizational principals like DevOps and application lifecycle management based on continuous integration/continuous delivery. A driver for the success of 5G will be telecom vendors and their customers mastering cloud-native technologies and practices. Over the next several years, the telecom market will therefore offer some of the most complex challenges and richest rewards to the cloud-native ecosystem as vendors and customers radically 'cloudify' their core network operations.

Use cases, best practices

CNCF believes it can address these requirements and is creating a CNF working group to define what 'cloud native' means in telecommunications. Its view is that the migration of physical network functions to virtual network functions (VNF) was little more than lift and shift, and a radical rework is necessary. It will provide an open source CNF test suite that will demonstrate the extent to which cloud-native best practices can be implemented, for both open and closed source CNFs.

CNCF hopes the outputs will increase interoperability and standardization of cloud-native workloads in the telecom space, to reduce what will be a significant operational burden on service providers as they re-platform to cloud-native services and service delivery. While Kubernetes certification is determined by API conformance, CNCF is working at the application layer, where conformance will be determined by many things, including best practices.

Initially, it is defining use cases that will inform best practices. Use cases identified so far include a BGP speaker (Border Gateway Protocol router) that effectively enables the internet to function, a way to deal with state, and 5G core. These will inform best practices, which will in turn be used to create a test suite via the CNF Conformance test suite project. CNCF hopes to have a first collection of best practices ready to talk about at the upcoming virtual Kubecon + CloudNativeCon EU in May, and an initial test suite framework by the time of the planned mixed physical/virtual Kubecon + CloudNativeCon NA in Los Angeles in October. A CNCF CNF Testbed provides reference code and test cases for running networking code on Kubernetes and OpenStack using cloud-native technologies in the telecom domain that can be used to evaluate how CNF architectures compare with more traditional VNF ones. The goal is to demonstrate that CNF orchestrated by Kubernetes will provide cost savings (capex/opex), improved resiliency and higher development velocity for service providers.