NFV principles should create open networks, not software silos

Karl Horne

Virtualization has ushered in a new era of possibility for telecom operators who must deliver a range of converged and cloud-based services to address business and consumer needs today and tomorrow.

There is very little doubt that software-powered network functions virtualization(NFV)is going to occupy center stage in 2016 in the wireless industry. A recent IDC survey commissioned by Ciena revealed that 64% of Asia-Pacific businesses are at some stage of the NFV deployment process, from early planning to final staging and testing with their selected service provider. Elsewhere in the world, afew leading providers such as AT&T and Telefonica are already taking action to deploy NFV in parts of their networks.At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, there was a sense of accelerating momentum for NFV from both vendors and service providers.

However, there is still some way to go before we see widespread adoption of virtualized network functions, in part due to concerns about complexity.

As NFV moves beyond the proof of concept stage into commercial deployments, service providers must think carefully about their NFV strategies. Commoditized hardware and flexibility to roll out new services is great, but service providers must avoid getting trapped in virtualized software solutions that don’t interwork, and result in vendor lock-in – the very problems that NFV was meant to solve.

So what are the criteria that a service provider should use to evaluate their NFV options? A few simple questions come to mind.

Does it create and retain an opennetwork?The key word here is “open”. The NFV solution must be architected to be programmable and vendor-agnostic. It should support both industry standards and open source, and support different types of access (metro, core, cloud) with a single multi-domain service orchestration layer.If the NFV solution being reviewed offers only restrictive access to certain specified partner vendors, service providers probably need to ask if the network is truly “open”.

Does it allow integration ofdiverse services?A virtualized network must run hybrid operations across hardware and the cloudas well as third-party services and applications smoothly. Software silos that don’t communicate with each other will at best make an NFV deployment complex and at worst fail. The NFV solutions hould be built for smooth orchestration of services, integrate diverse resources (cloud, network, physical and virtual devices) and feature open APIs.It is also important to ensure it can be integrated with existing BSS/OSS systems, so service providers can bill for these new services.

Is it modular, and not monolithic? Monolithic black-box solutions must be avoided in favor of modular solutions, architected like building blocks, that bring SDN, NFV and service orchestration into a unified, open platform. This will help avoid lock-in and create the flexibility to plug-and-play – tapping into third-party and open-source apps as needed. A micro-services architecture offers modular service delivery and greatly simplifies the creation, automation, and orchestration of services across the network. 

The move to NFV promises increased agility, improved operations, new revenue streams and reduced costs, but it is no small task for any service provider to migrate a network and all its functions into a virtualized, software-defined construct.

Next-generation NFV, combined with service orchestration, can reduce reliance on professional services through modular, open, and standards-based techniques.Service providers have the opportunity now to re-evaluate how their networks are defined, designed, and supported, to transform themselvesto ignite the next waveof growth in telecoms.

Karl Horne is CTO for Asia Pacific at Ciena



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