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Industry: Telecom
Location: Netherlands
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KPN: Containers, creating the telco of the future

Highlights

  • 80% reduction in management time through automation
  • Dramatic decrease in time to test, freeing engineers to innovate; containers enable rapid development of new services
  • Improved availability: only one outage in 12 months compared to many historically
  • New instances created in minutes compared to working with legacy hardware
  • Self-service: teams can create projects themselves without being dependent on other parties
  • Reduces complexity in public cloud migration

Products

KPN has over 3.5 million mobile customers, nearly 3 million broadband customers, provides fixed-mobile phone plans to 1.3 million customers and has over 2 million interactive TV subscribers.

At-a-Glance

KPN has been helping to accelerate technological innovation across the Netherlands since 1881. From the telegraph and fixed-line telephony to 5G and the Internet of Things, KPN is the leading telecommunications and IT provider in the Netherlands. With fixed and mobile networks for telephony, data and TV, the company serves private and business customers, at home and abroad. In addition, it offers enterprise cloud and data center solutions, and grants access to other telecom providers to its widespread networks.

The journey to containers

Dennis Eijkelenboom is infrastructure and platform transformation lead at KPN Technium. After a period of transformation, KPN’s IT and digital programs combined to become Technium — KPN’s central IT department. Technium develops and maintains all IT applications within KPN.

As well as enterprise-class IT support, Technium builds agile development environments for KPN’s developers to create, test and deploy new software and services. Eijkelenboom and the team develop and maintain platforms for 80 DevOps teams distributed throughout KPN. These teams manage and run all of KPN’s systems; website; e-commerce platform; CRM; finance; and internal IT systems.

Working in the mass-market, consumerfacing side of the business (mobile, TV, fixed-line), the team is constantly looking for ways to streamline processes, building agility and efficiency into the organization. Historically, KPN Digital ran its own private cloud in a traditional virtual machine (VM) based environment. While adequate, this became unreliable, difficult and costly to manage.

The team started experimenting with containers in 2017. Starting with Mesos, Eijkelenboom soon realized Kubernetes was shaping up to be a longer-term option. After switching to Kubernetes, they managed the platform with KPN’s own tooling. At this point, they realized the technology was fit for purpose, but that it may prove more efficient to work with a partner to manage the orchestration layer. SUSE Rancher started working alongside KPN soon after.

Now, KPN runs 50 production applications on SUSE Rancher, running on its advanced private cloud — TCloud. TCloud is now the default platform by which KPN containerizes, develops, hosts and manages its applications and systems.

“Providing DevOps to over 60 different teams within KPN, mobilizing projects rapidly and at-scale is critical. Containers are becoming the de facto way of achieving this.”

What were the problems KPN was trying to solve?

Increasing scale and velocity of development

As the demands on Technium grew, speed, scale and velocity became priorities. They were working with multiple teams and numerous projects, each consuming valuable time in development and testing. Eijkelenboom and his team needed a way to automate large parts of the cycle. He also saw an opportunity for KPN’s private cloud to become a more powerful platform for DevOps teams, but he needed a scalable way to accelerate development.

KPN’s private cloud has always been critical — hosting the estate of VMs, website, “Providing DevOps to over 60 different teams within KPN, mobilizing projects rapidly and at-scale is critical. Containers are becoming the de facto way of achieving this.” Dennis Eijkelenboom Transformation Lead Infra & Platform KPN databases, connectivity and other key functions. Availability and reliability, therefore, were important factors. As the team started experimenting with containers, Kubernetes became an obvious choice.

Kubernetes, and SUSE Rancher, offered the team a way to automate development, experiment freely, and build a more robust cloud architecture. The team found major economies working with SUSE Rancher immediately. Compared to managing an estate of VMs, the time and effort taken to manage the platform was vastly reduced. Compared to 12 full-time employees managing the VM platform, only three are needed for TCloud.

The team would be responsible for patching and testing manually — these processes are now automated. The team can self-service the entire platform from one central point and, whilst still responsible for configuring and deploying new VMs, basic functions happen automatically within the platform.

This has accelerated program development, hastening the time it takes for teams to deploy new services. Working with SUSE Rancher has also enabled KPN to position TCloud as its central management platform. TCloud hosts multiple critical IT services such as the API, self-care environment and KPN’s Inspire project — a dynamic, customer-facing entertainment guide for film, TV and music.

KPN is now planning the next wave of migration to TCloud, gradually moving the entire IT infrastructure to containers in just three months.

Developing critical new services

One of KPN’s biggest requirements was to free the team from the historical management burden so they could innovate around new services for KPN’s DevOps community. Eijkelenboom has been working on a major cloud migration project as a result.

AWS: managing the migration to public cloud

Another key mission is to move TCloud into the public cloud — specifically AWS — to allow DevOps teams to access the functionality that exists within AWS’ cloud ecosystem. Developers can continue to benefit from the security, privacy and functionality of TCloud, while being able to bring AWS tool sets into TCloud.

Historically, a major migration project like this would take the team away from its core business. It would also take vital services out of play and risk the stability of the core platform during testing.

In a containerized environment, migration ‘dev and test’ can be managed in a separate environment and, because core platform management is reduced, the team can hasten project completion. In this environment, migration progresses gradually and safely — with a few key applications migrated from TCloud to AWS where certain services are needed. The team plans to have several critical applications running on AWS by the end of 2019.

What were their requirements from their chosen platform vendor?

Technium provides a unique set of services to its growing community of internal developers. KPN needed a way to rapidly scale its technology infrastructure in order to service the business efficiently. The team also wanted to build resilience and high availability into its systems to ensure they meet performance KPIs, while affording engineers time to innovate.

Crucially, KPN needed a partner to help it get the most out of Kubernetes and to plan the long-term future of TCloud. Alongside SUSE Rancher, KPN is finding it easy to experiment with new ideas. The team can spin up and take down new instances at a moment’s notice, in isolation, with no impact on KPN’s core infrastructure.

This freedom allows the team to think more creatively about how TCloud can grow and evolve for the benefit of KPN’s DevOps teams. By creating a flexible environment, they’ve been able to kick-start plans for public cloud migration much quicker than would have been possible before and at a fraction of the cost.

Most of all, SUSE Rancher has become a trusted partner for KPN, helping to galvanize excitement within KPN for containers and their benefits. Working alongside SUSE Rancher, KPN plans to accelerate the adoption of containers within the business and further migra