Virtually there: stepping stones to NFV
“Change is good,” the saying goes. Yet the more significant and transformational that change is, the more questions it can raise about the best way to proceed – what to do first, how to prioritise and where to allocate budget.
For communications service providers (CSPs) – whether fixed, mobile, or cable/satellite – nowhere are those questions more important than in the area of network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software defined networking (SDN). These are disruptive technologies that shift core network functions off costly, dedicated hardware and onto pure software platforms, with the potential of cutting costs and speeding time-to-market. Today, there’s a lot of hype around what NFV and SDN mean for business transformation and service provider revenues, says Justin Paul, head of OSS Marketing at Amdocs.
NFV is expected to deliver significant benefits to service providers including:
- Improved service agility with improvements in both customer experience and service enablement
- Reduced equipment expenditure (CAPEX savings)
- Improved operational efficiency (OPEX savings)
Not only this, but recent research from Analysys Mason found that implementing Virtual Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE) has the potential to generate billions in revenue for CSPs. The research, which draws on data from North American and European tier one service providers, found that service providers with ‘first-mover advantage’ stand to realise up to 82% cost savings per home from the adoption of vCPE-enabled services. High cost savings (up to $1.34 billion net cost savings over the investment period) can protect revenue margins from competitive price wars as well as fund digital-home investments, generate new strategic residential revenue streams, and provide a $655 million increase in revenues from faster upsells of double-play to triple-play services.
However, while these changes are exciting and could bring massive revenue and opportunities to service providers, the impact of SDN and NFV on operational support systems is considerable and should not be neglected or rushed either. These technologies are forcing a rapid evolution of operating support systems (OSS) into real-time, dynamic systems designed to support rapidly changing networks. Clearly, a measured approach is needed to phase service providers into this new, virtualised environment.
Crucially, if the OSS systems of today are not enhanced or augmented in some way, they will not meet the needs of this future network infrastructure. The inability to operationalise SDN and NFV will therefore impact the ability of service providers to unlock the benefits and monetise these technologies.
Initially, the focus of NFV was on OPEX and CAPEX reduction, but we’ve seen service providers are increasingly looking at the ability to improve service flexibility – and this is a key driver for NFV adoption in the telecoms market.
The move to the next generation of OSS needs to address two key areas: enhancements to the customer experience – providing customers with services they desire with high quality and reliability – and improvements in service enablement, strengthening the ability to create, adapt and implement new revenue-generating services that customers demand.
In phase one of NFV, the focus is set on ensuring that the new Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) perform at least as well as the physical network functions (PNFs) that they are replacing. From a technical perspective, this is an important step, as these VNFs are the key building blocks for NFV adoption and the virtualisation of the network.
During this phase, the operational issues related to NFV are simple. Typically, the VNF is instantiated on a dedicated server, in a predefined location, often with a dedicated team whose role it is to operate and maintain that function. At this most basic level, the VNFs do not require complex orchestration, and many of the systems deployed are managed using simple element management systems (EMS), cloud management systems (CMS) or VNF managers (VNF-M).
Also in this phase, it is possible to implement NFV without a complex orchestration function because of the simplicity and static nature of the VNFs. Essentially, phase one is the replication of the physical network with a virtual version. And because the number of network elements is small, the EMS and VNF managers are sufficient. But as the number of VNFs and the complexity of the network increases, the need arises for a dedicated NFV orchestrator.
In phase two of NFV, there is a requirement to implement highly scalable NFV orchestration systems that can manage the more advanced requirements of a VNF network, including the instantiation and management of many dynamic VNFs. In this second phase, scalability becomes more important to service providers. In addition, as virtualisation increases in the network, the need to support multi-vendor NFV environments grow. As a result, multi-vendor-capable, vendor-agnostic NFV-orchestrators become essential.
We believe, the five key new characteristics for creating the next generation of OSS are:
- Virtualised service resource and lifecycle management (NFV orchestration)
- Cross-domain service orchestration for complex orders (order orchestration)
- Automated hybrid service design
- Real-time topology, network and service visualisation (real-time OSS)
- Service and customer configuration
It is about taking existing OSS to NFV/SDN and beyond, allowing service providers to reap the true benefits of this technology.
The author of this blog is Justin Paul, head of OSS marketing at Amdoc.
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