Network Functions Virtualization: Injecting a strong dose of service agility

Justin Paul
06 Oct 2015

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Indeed, to thrive in The New World of Customer Experience, a world of rising customer expectations, unprecedented technology advancements, and intensified competition, service providers are increasingly challenged to continue creating new services and deploy them rapidly. This is why network functions virtualization (NFV) is so important for them.

The aim, of course is getting out new products and services to customers as quickly as possible. But while the timeline for rolling out new customer services today is still nine months or more the process is too time-consuming and costly to encourage agile innovation. This window is set to come down to four-five months in the short term. In the longer term, service providers will be rolling out new services in just weeks. The result is that service providers will be able take more risks and experiment with new services. Then, if some of them fail, the effect on the bottom line and the resources that otherwise could have been used differently, is far less crucial.

Get smart

Crucial to NFV success is orchestration, providing the brains behind the genius, and the source of much of the operational and economic benefits. In addition to orchestration’s central role in defining and deploying services, its aim is to continuously fulfil and auto-correct a live network of virtual network functions together with service-ready physical network elements. The key to an excellent orchestration system is its ability to understand and respond to the BSS. To do this, it needs to understand the business and then use this knowledge to map business decisions to the infrastructure.

No more lock-in

One of the other drivers behind the service provider NFV initiative is vendor neutrality. Many traditional vendors are still trying to leverage their positions by offering virtualized versions of proprietary network capabilities, such as switching, storage and customer premise equipment like firewalls and denial of service hardware. And it’s in their interests to do so, because effectively it can lock their customers in to their products for another 20 years or more. Virtualization, with its emphasis on software can enable the opposite path, releasing service providers to take a much more agile and lower-risk approach to scaling and adjusting their networks.

Not so fast

While we are observing transformations taking place in the industry, the pace is still gradual. To date, the emphasis for virtualization has been on simply replacing existing physical network functions. The more tangible benefits, and therefore the bigger returns on investment, will be realized in the next stage, when management of virtual network functions will be pre-programmed, automated and orchestrated. Already today, we are starting to see the first network operators make small-scale commercial NFV deployments. And the much more substantial projects incorporating IT-based orchestration solutions will start to go live next year. This is when service providers will have the opportunity to use virtualization as a spring board to a raft of new products and services that their competitors, who have not embraced NFV, will take much longer to replicate. Of course NFV alone is not enough to enable this type of innovation; the key will be the ability to automate the service development lifecycle, cutting the long time to market and high costs that are currently barriers to service agility and innovation.

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