A 5G Data Fabric

Most 5G deployments will not be greenfield. But a successful 5G deployment is not limited to simply deploying new radio on existing sites. It requires a new approach to telecom IT that can both simplify the telco’s estate and prepare for the new business opportunities of 5G. A complete data fabric (for 5G or for everything) will support both the business opportunities and the network complexities of 5G.

A data fabric includes all of the necessary data services for operating a mobile network and providing connectivity and ‘beyond connectivity’ services. This means offering the many different persistence storage toolsets to your business logic layer (as represented by micro-services in docker). An application can then utilise the most appropriate persistence technology for their requirements. For example, this could mean exposing a RDBMS for structured data, a Graph for modelling topologies and document storage for persisting YANG documents.

Data Fabric for a Micro Service Architecture

The business value of the data fabric is that it allows the clever telco to disassociate their software requirements’ from the data plane. Thus enabling a micro-service architecture that can manage a virtualised network; and then on top of that expose services to their customers.

Key data fabric use cases for 5G include:

  • A network planning architecture for geo-planning cell site deployments including in-building
  • A network topology architecture that can model a highly complex network and enable Self Organising Networks
  • A time series streaming architecture that can model events coming off a network and a customer’s deployments and enable effective Machine Learning driven autonomic improvements
  • A network orchestration architecture for a virtualised network (full or partial)
  • A network slice management and guarantee architecture (with support for a blockchain based service level guarantee)
  • A subscriber data management architecture for unified value added services and subscription

The following is my description of a logical data fabric for a 5G implementation. I am publishing it because it can help network operators to push their software vendors to decouple the software’s logic from its data persistence. Below are all the logical tools needed:

  1. RDBMS for ACID based transactions that are useful for physical inventories, managing subscription updates (less so reads) and all other structure data
  2. Graph database for modelling network topologies, relationships and dependencies. Very useful for machine learning, root cause analysis and spotting previously unknown interconnected loops between items
  3. Wide column database for dealing with unstructured extensible datasets that include all the different devices supported on a 5G network. Very useful within IoT and customer network experience.
  4. OLTP NoSQL database for offline analytical processing including network topology efficiency modelling and network performance analysis as part of an ITIL Problem / Change Management process
  5. Document datastore for managing Infrastructure as Code and Virtual Network Function deployment descriptors in the form of YANG documents. Useful in blockchain contracts and services.
  6. In Memory Datastore for fast reads and data caches
  7. Geo-spatial database for modelling RAN deployments and radio propagation. Incredibly important as RAN efficiencies have a major bottom line impact. Increasingly need to support in-building information for small cell deployments. Needs to work together with other radio technologies including 5G.
  8. Time series database for performance monitoring which can be implemented within the customer network experience function of a wide column database and with use of Grafana and Prometheus

Some 5G Data Fabric Use Cases:

RDBMS Database Graph Database Wide Column OLTP Document Data Store In Memory Database Geo-spatial Database
Network Plan & Build and Analysis Y Y Y
Physical Network & Static InventoryY     Y
Virtual Network & Dynamic Inventory   Y     Y    
Fast Read Inventory Y   Y 
Streaming Fast Analysis YY    
Offline Event Analysis Y Y
Subscription Management & EntitlementsY    Y 

In conclusion, most telcos have bought siloed commercial off the shelf products for individual specific use cases. This has meant that the telco has often only used as little as 40% of the intrinsic value of their commercial software licences. The cost of building 5G will be high, and the greater share of the prize will go to the most agile operators. It is therefore incumbent on mobile operators to drive the greatest efficiencies from their software investments.

5G is a great driver for change. The most effective 5G operators will be those that can get their data architecture right first time. Telecom operators must start moving to a data fabric.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s