Private 5G networking (P5G) is poised to facilitate disruptive applications, modernize operational technology (OT) workloads and accelerate digital transformation journeys for enterprises of all sizes. However, cellular connectivity as a primary modality within enterprises is new, given that it has traditionally served mainly (if not solely) as a redundancy option for failover. Consequently, moving to P5G creates adoption challenges for network ops teams; these challenges include how and when to use licensed spectrum, how to integrate P5G into existing wired and Wi-Fi networks, higher underlying infrastructure costs for P5G relative to Wi-Fi and the need for possibly extensive performance optimization with the use of industry-standard servers, given how nascent the latter is in both mobile core, open and virtualized RAN deployments.
To find out more about bridging these challenges, I recently spoke with experts from Druid Software and Napatech to learn more about each company’s solutions and how the two businesses are collaborating to accelerate the adoption of P5G using core infrastructure based on industry-standard servers. In this article, I want to share what I find compelling about each company and the progress of their efforts since their joint announcement at Mobile World Congress Barcelona (MWC) in February of this year.
Druid Software and Napatech
Before getting into details on their collaboration, let’s start with some background on the two companies. Druid Software is a cellular core network solution provider based in Ireland. Founded in 2000, the company supports both 5G and 4G LTE deployments, focusing its efforts on enterprise communications, IoT and mobile edge computing. As a result, Druid serves customers in several verticals that can take advantage of cellular’s unique combination of wide propagation and high performance; these industry verticals include public safety, defense, manufacturing, healthcare and more.
What I like about Druid is that its mobile core solution is flexible and backward-compatible to 2G radio access network (RAN) infrastructure. This opens the door for Druid to participate in more P5G deployments as a plug-in, rather than being packaged as a turnkey solution that might limit its market reach.
Napatech is a leading supplier of programmable smart network interface card (SmartNIC) solutions, which include software stacks that offload and accelerate applications and services such as the 5G user plane function (UPF). UPF often represents the greatest computational workload within the packet core, and Napatech aims to deliver significant capital and operational expense savings with its offload solution.
What I like about Napatech is that its solutions have the potential to not only reduce overall server footprints and hardware costs, but also reduce power consumption while optimizing performance. Its vertical focus also complements that of Druid. Thus the partnership with the Irish mobile core infrastructure provider that was announced at MWC this year seems to be a smart match.
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MWC 2023 announcement
At MWC 2023, Druid and Napatech revealed the details of their partnership. At a high level, the companies are collaborating to optimize the performance of Druid’s Raemis software deployed on servers configured with Napatech’s SmartNICs. (Initially, this applies to the NT200 200 Gbps card running the Napatech Link-Inline software stack.) What I find especially compelling is that the Napatech solution completely offloads traffic, bypassing the server CPU and freeing it up for other important computational tasks.
By partnering, the two companies have in essence blueprinted a solution with the potential to dramatically lower the cost of deploying a private 5G network on industry-standard servers while boosting performance. Often, there is a tradeoff between cost and performance, so it’s a win-win for any organization seeking the flexibility that core infrastructure, based on industry standard servers, can deliver.
Druid and Napatech are each successful in their own right, but the partnership between the two presents an opportunity to promote success for both of them in private network deployments. It is early days for P5G, but adoption continues to accelerate. Druid and Napatech look well positioned to capitalize on the opportunity.