How to avoid NFV transformation pains Part 5: You need new skills
What new skills will be needed by CSPs and their partners as they transition to network functions virtualisation (NFV)? And where will they find them?
In the preceding articles in this five-part series we’ve examined operators’ NFV deployment strategies where the worst Bear Traps may lie waiting for the unwary how orchestration is the ‘make or break’ element in NFV and whether hybrid traditional/NFV solutions will be a stepping stone to successful deployments? Here, Jeremy Cowan concludes his five-part series.
Underpinning all of this preparation there is one common need for all these strands of NFV to come together in successful operator transformations, and that is the necessary Skills.
Tony Poulos, Enterprise Business Assurance market strategist at WeDo Technologies is quite blunt about it. “NFV is designed to replace traditional OSS rather than provide a comfortable transition path. As a result, people who are skilled in the old technology may have to be completely retrained and there will likely be a shortage of experienced NFV technicians in the early stages of rollout.”
“As vendors and systems integrators rush to secure the best people and train new staff, CSPs (communication service providers) may be better off securing relationships with trusted suppliers for the initial stages of NFV introduction and crossover,” says Poulos.
For example, AT&T has promised up to 100 paid internships for nanodegree graduates over the next year. But the dilemma for all service providers is whether to spend time and money training up existing or new staff at the risk of delaying SDN/NFV rollouts which may seriously reduce their ability to launch new products and services in the near term (potentially blunting their competitive edge), or instead bite the bullet and buy in consultancy expertise to plug the gap.
A shift in products and sales approach
NFV gives operators the ability to introduce and trial new services, respond to customer demands much faster and create new upsell opportunities, says Mervyn Kelly, EMEA marketing director, Ciena. As a result they can greatly accelerate and simplify the introduction of new services and experiment with more new product offerings since the hurdle of potentially wasted hardware is overcome. However, this means a shift in both the actual products to be sold and the sales approach.
Rather than selling hardware on a multi-year usage-based model, teams will sell network functions using an on-demand licensing model and will need to constantly ensure the right network functions are in place. Kelly says, “Not only will this require new sales skills, but it will also necessitate the up-skilling of sales associates and managers to a more consultative role as they are required to advise clients on the best product for a purpose ‘at-the-moment’ rather than one that will suit the business overall over a number of years.”
‘The biggest challenge early on’
Peer 1 Hosting’s senior architect, Gary McKenzie believes that, “Marrying the traditional network skills sets with the ability to design and manage large scale virtualisation environments is the biggest challenge early on in NFV projects.”
“After that the challenge of orchestrating and automating the provision of NFV-based solutions is the next big thing. It firmly plays into the hands of organisations which are good at building multifunctional teams. I hesitate to use the word ‘devops’ but it’s the same concept of multidisciplinary teams,” says McKenzie. “You need everybody working together to make the most of NFV.”
Even though the long-term benefits of NFV are clear, CSPs need to be ready in the short-term for extra expense as they manage the learning curve at all levels. New skills require investment and as changes to network functionality take place, CSPs will need to acquire new skills in both the operations and engineering teams.
“CSPs will need new skills in managing a cloud environment and developing software,” according to Javier Benitez, senior network architect at Colt Technology Services. “As software moves to the cloud, CSPs will need to adapt to working in this new software environment. They will see a shift from an operational model whereby an operations team manages each network device and multiple protocols, to a new environment where they need to manage software in the cloud. Many CSPs that already offer Cloud/IaaS services will be able to transfer existing skills and knowledge within the organisation but in different teams.”
Benitez believes that CSPs and vendors will also need to up-skill when it comes to OpenSource community development. As the industry moves towards a model where all services are delivered through NFV, operators will have an opportunity and the freedom to define and develop new services by developing new code.
Broader skills and software needed
Rather than requiring complex network design, there may be a higher demand for people with broader skill sets who are less focused on one particular area of technology. Instead of needing people to programme the network, operators could find they need network support and orchestration software to deliver that service automatically.
Gerry Donohoe, director of Solutions Engineering at Openet puts it well when he says, “New skills will be needed; however, the good news is that the automation capabilities enabled by NFV will reduce the manpower needed to roll out solutions. In addition, as NFV embraces standard IT technologies rather than proprietary telecom technologies, there will be far fewer skill siloes, and the necessary skills will be more related to Enterprise and Webscale technologies.
Quick evolution of skills needed
In Shaul Rozen’s view, the challenge is that the skill sets required to run a hybrid virtualised and physical network will need to quickly evolve to include software and cloud-based capabilities such as OpenStack operation and development, software lifecycle management, data centre building and management, devops, and a modified approach to the network operations centre (NOC).
However, as the director of Product Strategy at Amdocs points out, “Service providers can find these skills both internally, and externally. New understanding can emerge through the collaboration of separate parts of the organisation, namely network groups, operations groups and IT groups. An internal ‘marriage of expertise’ will pave the way to show how both paradigms have to evolve.”
“In addition, service providers will need to develop new skill sets and practices from virtualisation and cloud companies. This can be done by internal education and training, by learning from current partners who have telco software expertise, and through external recruiting,” Rozen concludes.
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