Telcos need clear vision for SDN and NFV

Staff writer
SDN CLOUD Insights

Libin Dai, Director of Integrated Solutions at HuaweiLibin Dai, Director of Integrated Solutions at Huawei, advises carriers to keep their business goals at the forefront of their network virtualization strategies 

SDN Cloud Insights: What’s the current state of SDN and NFV in terms of commercial deployments?   

Libin Dai: While some carriers have been cautious about investing in SDN and NFV, we are starting to see the industry move along the adoption cycle, with pioneering carriers focused on not only cost reduction, but also revenue-generating new services from these technologies.

With more successful SDN and NFV deployments that demonstrate clearly-defined ROI, we will start to see wider carrier adoption of these technologies. We foresee this being a critical time for SDN and NFV deployment, and carriers will look to vendors such as Huawei to help guide them through what will be a complex adoption and deployment process.    

It seems NFV is getting more traction than SDN for now, at least on the operator network side. Why is this, and when can we expect SDN to catch up?   

NFV is gaining more traction and becoming a reality for carriers to accelerate the introduction of new revenue-generating services. There are two main reasons for this.   

First: NFV is the cloudification of network functions, whereas SDN is the cloudification of the entire network. SDN is seen as an extension of NFV covering more network functions. Its deployment is viewed as more complex and carriers are therefore cautious about investing in this area.   

And second: virtualization technology is a mature technology and relatively straightforward to apply to telecommunication network functions. Although SDN has been implemented in campus and enterprise networks, carrier-grade deployment brings new complexities in terms of network provisioning and management, as well as requiring a new skill set among carrier staff.   

Nevertheless, SDN and NFV need to be buckled up in the context of overall network transformation. For example, when a virtualized service will be released across the whole domain, SDN is needed to automatically set up the connectivity so that the VNF can switch onto the remote data center. From Huawei’s perspective, SDN and NFV together can function like a car, taking carriers from one place to another, where the car itself is far more important than just wheels or tires.     

What are the major challenges operators facing in deploying SDN and NFV right now?

The industry faces several fundamental challenges that have to be overcome for successful adoption of SDN and NFV. The main challenges include:  
Performance: The technologies must meet carrier-grade reliability requirements, achieve different network experience benchmarks, and satisfy business requirements in low latency and high bandwidth.
Security: Security needs to be everywhere within a network cloud environment to protect the availability, integrity, and privacy of all connected resources and information. As the centralized decision point, access to the SDN controller needs to be tightly controlled and protected from attacks.  
Multi-vendor integration: As the network becomes more open, carriers will find it increasingly challenging to achieve multi-vendor interconnection and high-efficiency network node orchestration.  
Human capital: The new era of SDN and NFV technology has brought about a shift in the skills and people capabilities required for the successful adoption of the network cloud.    

How are operators overcoming those challenges? What advice do you give your customers?   

Carriers need a clear vision of why they are adopting SDN and NFV and how the technology shift will support their business goals. To create a competitive advantage in the era of the mobile Internet, carriers need to offer new services such as cloud services, IoT, big data and video. Carriers need to build the right network cloud architecture that enables faster time-to-market for these new service offerings, and optimizes operational performance while reducing costs.    

Carriers need to consider the following.

First: creating a unified domain of service and management, and multiple domains of network infrastructure, especially for those large telecom groups with operations across multiple countries.
Second: the fragmentation of networks due to the decoupling of network layers will require the support of capable integrated service providers.

And third: employing the strategy of gradual evolution by using SDN and NFV to plan for new network components and gradually migrate the old network elements to the cloud-based virtual platform.     One of the key characteristics of SDN and NFV is its open and collaborative approach to building an ecosystem, and Huawei has established its own global open labs to help address the interoperability challenge.

How has that been going, and how is it helping to accelerate commercialization of SDN/NFV?   

Through multi-vendor integration verifications in our open labs around the world, Huawei has helped clients conduct pre-integration prior to commercial launches, accumulating integrated docking experiences, as well as testing scenarios where SDN and NFV is implemented on a commercial level. For example, we have been running joint verification and pre-integration projects with many of our strategic partners, including VMware, Open Stack, Red Hat, Wind River and Canonical, at our NFV open lab in Xi’an, China. 

At the same time, Huawei has strengthened its relationship with industry organizations, such as OpenStack and ETSI, and has recently joined OPNFV as a Platinum member. As part of OPNFV’s mission to establish industry standards for NFV and perfect the technology, Huawei’s NFV/SDN open lab has been selected as one of eight open source development labs in the world. These labs are currently engaged in joint research on 28 technical topics, with eight projects verification driven primarily by Huawei. 

This article was first appeared in Telecom Asia SDN Cloud Insights October edition

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