How to avoid NFV transformation pains – Part 1: Halt the ‘daisy chain’
There is widespread agreement that network function virtualisation (NFV) presents a game-changing opportunity for communication service providers and customers alike. But CSPs also have serious concerns about how to manage the transition. In a series of articles, Jeremy Cowan reports on the pitfalls and opportunities. Today we examine some leading operators’ NFV strategies.
“CSPs are being driven towards NFV by both internal and external pressures,” says Béatrice Piquer-Durand, VP at Ipanema Technologies. Ipanema is a WAN optimisation software and hardware vendor, and a telco-provided managed service for enterprises adopting cloud. Ipanema is currently researching NFV deployments with BT at Adastral Park in the UK.
“Internally there is a drive to simplify deployments and halt the growing ‘daisy chain’ of individual devices making their way into enterprise networks, each of which needs to be installed, configured and managed. Externally, enterprises are, as always, pushing the CSPs to do more for less – to deliver better, faster, more flexible and reliable application-level services for the lowest possible price. These internal and external pressures are both leading in the same direction – NFV, the virtualisation of networking functions into fewer, easy-to-orchestrate, generic hardware devices.”
To meet these objectives, interest in network virtualisation has grown steadily since 2012 when AT&T, BT, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom and other telcos introduced the NFV Call to Action. A committee was set up under ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to spur progress, and the committee is working to define the requirements and architecture blueprints as a basis for implementation, resulting in IETF standards.
So we can expect to see changes in the way networks provide their services to consumers and business customers. Industry analyst firm, Stratecast has identified growing technical capabilities and business drivers emerging from NFV, software defined networking (SDN) and long-term evolution to 4th Generation mobile (4G LTE). Stratecast says, “Small and big carriers alike are beginning to embrace NFV to better manage operational expenditures for their networks, and to roll out new services. More CSPs will begin offering dynamic NFV-based services, such as bandwidth-on-demand for cloud connectivity, security services using virtualised firewalls, and managed network services using virtualised network interface devices.”
Caroline Gabriel of Maravedis-Rethink believes that the combination of SDN and NFV platforms will transform the carriers’ networks, cost bases and service delivery over the coming decade. She adds, “This will be a long process, and considerable risks currently remain. Despite the hurdles, though, uptake among MNOs (mobile network opertators) is accelerating, and by 2018 over 72% will have implemented NFV in some elements of their commercial networks.”
Telekom Austria Group also considers NFV a ‘game changer’ for the industry. The operator expects both telcos and their customers will benefit greatly, through greater flexibility and agility in supporting customers, the ability to cope with significant increases in data, enhanced customer utilisation, higher quality of delivered services, shorter time-to-market and operational efforts, and finally through innovation.
Guenther Ottendorfer, CTO, Telekom Austria Group, tells VanillaPlus: “NFV technology is a paradigm shift which will have a major impact on the telecommunication industry globally within the next few years. The traditional IT silo world will no longer exist and the telecom landscape will be shaped differently. I am proud that the group is among the first operators worldwide to set these trends.”
According to AT&T’s John Donovan, the next milestone in its NFV and SDN-centric User Defined Network vision is to virtualise and control more than 75% of the network using the new architecture by 2020. Donovan adds that the list of vendors supporting AT&T’s software-centric network evolution is unlikely to see any significant additions. New vendors will likely be integrated by AT&T’s existing suppliers Affirmed Networks, Alcatel-Lucent, Amdocs, Brocade, Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Fujitsu, Juniper and Metaswitch.
Some analysts insist, however, that a lack of ‘IT heavyweights’ in the roster of vendors could be short-sighted. Commenting on AT&T, Peter Jarich, vice-president of Consumer and Infrastructure research at Current Analysis, says: “In many ways, this isn’t surprising. AT&T is one of a handful of operators actively driving SDN and NFV forward – paving the way for others to follow. It only makes sense for the operator to ‘put its money where its mouth is’.”
This he feels bears out recent research by Current Analysis which surveyed 100 service provider executives. The research found that 92% of operators cited faster service roll-out – which AT&T expects to achieve from its Network on Demand solution – as an investment or deployment priority over the next three years.
“AT&T isn’t alone in favouring telco vendors over IT vendors when it comes to NFV / SDN deployment and integration; almost two-thirds of carriers (we) surveyed expected telco vendors to take the lead in supplying SDN/NFV software and integration services. That doesn’t mean this isn’t potentially short-sighted,” Jarich adds.
“For service providers, SDN and NFV are ultimately about the integration of IT principles, assets and operations into their service-bearing networks. Bringing IT vendors into these transformations at a foundational level only makes sense in order to benefit from their insights and assets and culture. Will an SDN or NFV strategy fail without them? Probably not. Would it be better with them? Probably.”
Telekom Austria Group´s approach has been to generate NFV knowledge and experience early on and become a leader in this area. It has already started a number of group-wide NFV trials. Vipnet in Croatia, Mobiltel in Bulgaria and Vip mobile in Serbia have already reported successful trials, while others are ongoing or in the planning phase.
Vip operator, the Macedonian subsidiary of Telekom Austria Group, was among the first telecom operators in the region to successfully test a VoLTE call based on NFV. Vip operator’s VoLTE service with a virtualised Telephony Application Server (TAS) runs on a virtualised IMS environment, both supplied by Mavenir Systems, a provider of virtualised mobile core network equipment. In addition, Vip operator has successfully tested virtualised Voice over Wireless LAN, (VoWiFi) on the same virtualised environment.
Telekom Austria Group tells VanillaPlus that a steady increase in demand for mobile data made this LTE technology the most promising candidate for virtualisation. Vip operator´s advanced LTE network had been capable of processing mobile data since middle of 2014. With the addition of Mavenir’s solution it has been made VoLTE-ready. In future, anyone equipped with VoLTE-capable devices and the right tariff will be able to use Macedonia’s LTE data network for voice communications as well. Due to its deployment of new technologies Macedonia was considered the perfect base for the group‘s trial. With VoLTE in place the customer will be able to view a video stream, while continuing a parallel voice conversation. Call set-up times will be reduced to less than 2 seconds.
Beau Atwater, director, head of strategy and business intelligence for Ericsson’s Business Unit Support Solutions, says: “For an operator to take advantage of NFV means that they’re going to be somehow making use of data centre environments to offer services to enterprises or consumers. The easiest (examples) to think of are where you replace a lot of the hardware required to satisfy a customer, like load balancing or application deployment control or firewalls, and you offer it as software. You certainly see that all over the data centres today. In fact, there isn’t a single box that a data centre installs that doesn’t have a virtual counterpart by some start-up somewhere.”/
He continues, “The challenge then for the operators is, ‘Okay, I understand I can save money by doing all this stuff and set up my own data centres, but now how do I start making money?’ Some of the low-hanging fruit are taking things that customers currently have and moving the data centre.
That could be network gateways at an enterprise space, the CPEs, where you might have some fairly sophisticated router facing the service provider at the user network interface, at the customer premises. What you’re going to do is replace the hardware with some more merchant hardware and then run the actual application back to your data centre, just to make it easier for the customer to deploy and easier to maintain the services. That’s the enterprise space.
“The obvious one in the consumer space is where you take something like the gateway router provided by your service provider, and you take a lot of the functions in that and you bring it into the data centre. A key one would be a firewall. I think tonnes of people would rather a service provider take over firewall management than trying to figure it out themselves on their router or using the default settings.”