Dish eyes 5G network reliability with Verica’s chaos engineering platform

To ensure its 5G network can handle unexpected or adverse events, Dish Network is throwing a little chaos into the mix by way of a Continuous Verification (CV) platform from Verica.

As for the chaos, that stems from the approach Verica takes based on principals of chaos engineering. It’s not actually throwing things into upheaval but simulates unexpected or unfavorable events to test and understand the safety margins of Dish’s network so that if and when things do go wrong, the operator knows how much room it has so the intended outcome doesn’t change – allowing software issues to proactively be identified and fixed before disruptions affect customers.

Verica co-founder and CEO Casey Rosenthal told Fierce that Continuous Verification is something all large telecoms are interested in, but Dish’s adoption marks the first major commercial deal to formally bring a product dedicated to CV into the critical infrastructure that wireless systems depend on.  

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The aim is to be proactive in finding and experimenting to verify whether complex systems behave like they should under adverse conditions and identify vulnerabilities. Rosenthal previously led a team at Netflix that defined chaos engineering and built the streaming giant’s Chaos Automation Platform.

Rosenthal explained how over the past 15 years or so there’s been an evolution that started with Continuous Integration (CI), which enables software engineers to build features faster, then shifted to CI/CD (Continuous Delivery), which enabled those features to get in front of customers more quickly, and now to CI/CD/CV.

“So we have faster features, faster delivery,” Rosenthal said. “Now we want to move fast without breaking things.”

Continuous Verification “makes sure the organization can optimize for business requirements, while all of that software is dynamically changing under the hood.”

Separately, Dish has called out CI/CD testing and zero-touch onboarding as key outcomes of work with Cisco to build an automation-focused DevOps organization, under a broader enterprise-focused partnership.  

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As for how typical examples of how Verica’s platform could be utilized for Dish, Rosenthal said the most obvious use case is an average cell phone call.

“We can continuously verify that calls get completed with required audio quality, while allowing dynamic, asynchronous, uncoordinated updates to any part of the software system that powers the cell phone network,” he continued.

Ensuring the business gets what it needs

Although it hasn’t launched commercially yet, Dish has long touted the use of a cloud-native open RAN approach for its standalone 5G network, which will rely heavily on software and already has a large lineup of different vendors.

Rosenthal noted that the shift to cloud-based software-defined networking solutions has accelerated the evolution of complex software systems that are needed to power them.

“This is a very competitive, fast-paced business. In a complex system, no human can mentally model how all of the parts fit together,” he said, which drives the need for Continuous Verification.

Once systems get to that level, “we need something that looks at system output to make sure we still get what we need from the whole endeavor. At the end of the day, the business doesn’t care if the system works as planned, as long as the output is what it needs.”

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The Verica platform that Dish is adopting is used to both verify components before they go live in the network, as well as continuously once its up and running to provide confidence in the availability and security properties of the networks.

Specifically, the platform is licensed by Dish for Kubernetes and Kafka verifications, and it will work autonomously as Dish engineers build and run the 5G network.

In terms of the Kubernetes and Kafka verifications, Rosenthal said they’re important because Verica has a significant amount of research that highlights common failure patterns for those two pieces of infrastructure.

“The engineers responsible for deploying, operating, and maintaining this infrastructure can make better decisions if they understand their safety margin,” he said. CV is what generates data and context to help the engineers do that. “They then have the tools to make better decisions optimizing for security and availability of that system.”

It goes above the infrastructure though, to all software running in the network, he noted.

“Infrastructure like Kubernetes provides a great place, a common ground, to establish patterns and automation to address software higher up the stack,” Rosenthal continued.

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From a Dish perspective, a key aspect is ensuring reliability both quickly and at scale.

“Verica essentially helps us test and verify our platform layer itself as well as everything on top through chaos engineering. These tests allow us to see how edge conditions affect performance and reliability,” said Marc Rouanne, executive vice president and chief network officer at Dish, in a statement. “By leveraging Verica’s CVP tooling and philosophy, Dish can deliver on our ambitious reliability and availability goals as we continue to accelerate innovation.”

Dish’s nascent 5G network is still in the works and has yet to launch commercially, but in the recent week the operator announced a few new additions to its partner lineup. On Thursday Dish said it’s tapped Confluent for cloud-native data streaming with Apache Kafka to assist real-time analytics applications. Earlier in the month Dish partnered with integrator WCI Technologies to target enterprises with 5G services, including through use of Dish spectrum and the 5G network once it launches.