F5 augments telco container-based infrastructure

F5 also announced it joined the T-Mobile-led 5G Open Innovation Lab as a corporate partner.(Getty Images)

The wireless industry may know F5 as the company that helps operators manage applications across multiple private and public clouds via its Application Delivery Controller. But now, F5 plans to use its expertise to help carriers manage their container-based infrastructure.

Today, the company announced two new products that will augment Kubernetes container infrastructure in wireless carriers’ networks.

F5 is jumping into this game early as only a few carriers have said they’re moving to a cloud-native 5G core. Those carriers include Dish and Rakuten, and there are clues that Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T are also moving to containers for their 5G cores.

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James Feger, VP and general manager of Service Provider at F5, said the company already has relationships with most of the major wireless carriers around the globe, which provides a good customer base to offer its new container-focused products.

The two new products announced today — its BIG-IP Service Proxy for Kubernetes and its Carrier-Grade Aspen Mesh — will help cloud-native 5G core services to coexist and interoperate with existing 3G and 4G signaling protocols, applications, billing systems, policies and telecom infrastructure. Service providers need this interoperability as they move to a cloud-native 5G core, which represents an architectural shift for them.

Of the BIG-IP Service Proxy for Kubernetes, Feger said, “Think of it as the gatekeeper for traffic management, security and protocol interworking.”

The Carrier-Grade Aspen Mesh gives visibility and management of all the cloud-native functions (CNFs). Feger said that Kubernetes encrypts traffic within the pods, but this causes carriers to lose visibility to certain things related to traffic management and billing, etc., when they move their workloads into containers. Aspen Mesh solves this visibility problem.

Asked if F5 would be competing against container-platform vendors such as IBM/Red Hat and VMware, Feger said, “Everybody’s a frenemy. It’s probably a little bit of both, complementary and competitive.”

He said F5’s new products deliver functions that don’t always exist in a base-level Kubernetes offering. “Kubernetes originated to serve workloads that weren’t necessarily service provider workloads,” he said. That’s the niche F5 is aiming to fill.

He said F5 is well-suited to this task because of its expertise helping carriers with their application delivery over multiple clouds. “We are able to handle multiple protocols and proxy them together and apply security,” he said. “The traditional F5 business focused on applications; this fits perfectly into the 5G world. Kubernetes is built for modern application development. The days of using the network for passing bits are gone. It’s an application network. All of our DNA from being an application company is helping our customers.”

BIG-IP SPK and Carrier-Grade Aspen Mesh are currently being tested in production environments with multiple tier-one service providers around the world. BIG-IP SPK will be generally available by the end of 2020. Carrier-Grade Aspen Mesh is available now.

F5 also announced it joined the T-Mobile-led 5G Open Innovation Lab as a corporate partner.

RELATED: Amdocs eyes 5G monetization through 5G Open Innovation Lab

Intel and T-Mobile launched the 5G lab in May with NASA. Dell Technologies, Microsoft, VMware and Amdocs recently signed on as founding partners. The 5G OI Lab connects early and later-stage companies with the members’ respective technical resources and platforms as they work to develop the next money-making 5G innovation.