Is your BSS ready for an injection of agility
George Fraser, the vice president of EMEA at CSG International explores the challenges of adopting SDN and NFV in a world of vendor lock-in and static silos
Everybody’s talking about the enormous promise of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV). SDN abstracts the switching layer of the network and simplifies the configuration of network devices and the services they deliver, while NFV virtualises the functions required to launch and operate services that are traditionally handled by dedicated, proprietary hardware. By abstracting operational software from the hardware it controls and running it on common virtual platforms, communication service providers (CSPs) can realise immediate cost-savings – along with a large dose of operational agility.
In fact, in an all-IP digital services environment, where subscriber demands seem insatiable and competition remains fierce, SDN and NFV are being trumpeted as enablers of the new digital service provider (DSP) business model. Nearly 25% of CSPs are already experimenting with virtual operations, and roughly 15% will deploy virtual business support systems (BSS) this year in an effort to benefit from across-the-board savings in computing resources, energy consumption, skills, and generic hardware. These numbers are expected to skyrocket as more companies feel competitive pressure to test the virtualisation waters.
Increased network flexibility, greater network efficiency
Taken together, SDN and NFV point to new, more flexible business models and increased revenue from new services. With this combination, CSPs also stand to gain greater network efficiency and control while lowering overall capital and operating expenses. SDN-controlled networks with NFV enable:
- Multivendor implementations that offer differentiated services by combining best-of-breed providers
- Common platforms across different applications, vertical industries, and customers, with no proprietary limitations
- A vendor-agnostic link between data and centralised control planes to eliminate vendor lock-in
This cooperative framework between the network and the application layers, combined with centralised network control, gives CSPs a way to deliver innovative new services while accelerating development, launch, deployment, and monetisation cycles. It also adds the increased flexibility required to scale service delivery rapidly and elastically to meet customer demand.
So far, so good. But what’s next?
Integrating SDN/NFV into the BSS environment
Considerations for implementing SDN/NFV go beyond the network. The transition to a virtual system is a big leap from the static and inflexible systems of traditional BSS, which may limit the ability of many CSPs to take advantage of this new paradigm. If BSS is not up to speed, companies cannot wring the agility out of their SDN initiatives. For most existing BSS engagements, there’s no real-time application visibility into the network, and the lack of network control and application interaction compromises both the user experience and the application functions. While many CSPs are eager to jump on board the abstraction bandwagon, their ability to roll out value-added services in a timely fashion may be hampered by the service bundling, inflexible data silos, and time-to-market of traditional solutions.
One essential factor for successful BSS in an SDN/NFV environment is ensuring that the real-time aspects of BSS – especially policy and control – are not compromised. New paradigms demand responsive and agile new systems, which means BSS in these new environments must be capable of identifying user services, applying appropriate policy and control settings, and managing seamlessly the complex multiparty models that accompany these new frameworks. According to a recent Heavy Reading report, many companies are beginning to realise the need to invest in next-generation BSS that can respond in near real-time to accommodate new types of billing events and take policy-driven action in response to triggers in the control plane.
Evolution or revolution?
The billing ecosystem is evolving with somewhat more speed and urgency than other areas of CSPs’ businesses, particularly given the importance of billing ease and accuracy in the customer lifecycle. Every quarter, we’re seeing new third-party partnerships and new channels for delivering services come online that are designed to tap next-generation technologies to improve customer engagement. But make no mistake – making the shift to virtualisation poses a significant challenge for many CSPs, especially those with legacy BSS installations that were not designed for such environments.
To avoid being left behind, CSPs should test, re-test, and test again their existing BSS in virtual environments. They must ensure that critical billing systems will deliver and scale before they migrate customers to a virtual platform, and if their legacy investments don’t cut muster in the new environments, CSPs may need to evaluate system upgrades or replacements to remain competitive.
The moral? Choose BSS partners wisely. Top billing providers already offer BSS upgrades, over-the-top plug-ins, and next-generation technologies that support virtualisation and ease the transition to SDN and NFV environments. In fact, market-leading vendors have been investing in responsive technologies that can logically abstract services for a number of years now, and they remain committed to staying ahead of the curve to provide the best virtual delivery and support available. For CSPs considering new investments, it’s a good idea to ensure that virtualisation and real-time capabilities are well integrated to support all network-facing, BSS, and mediation systems. Such a strategy offers CSPs a clear path toward successful BSS deployments in SDN/NFV environments and provides the necessary agility and cost-savings to remain both relevant and competitive.