NFV – Enabling network transformation through DevOps
Operators around the world are achieving considerable network efficiencies, and gaining more flexibility over how they develop their services, by establishing Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) as a central pillar of their operational strategies.
NFV enables operators to create Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) that are hosted in ‘the cloud’. Subscribers can access such VNFs in real-time, from any location.
By employing NFV, operators are becoming more adaptable and competitive in a market that has become frenetic with the activities of their operator rivals and new ambitious OTT players. Here’s how they can use the technology to give them a competitive advantage:
Software is more efficiently and cost-effectively adaptable than hardware
Network functions have traditionally been deployed as ‘hardware appliances’ by large technology vendors. They are inherently inflexible, designed to support fixed and pre-defined functions, and to meet specified traffic capacity targets. If a network function or service needs to be modified or upgraded, it must be done by the originating equipment vendor -often at considerable cost, and too slowly to be truly competitive. By implementing VNFs, operators have more control over how their network functions work and how they are developed. Furthermore, VNFs are cheaper and faster to deploy and to change than their hardware counterparts, says Chris Haddock, head of Marketing, OpenCloud.
Service innovation and extension are easier to achieve with NFV
As operators roll-out LTE and move to an all-IP future, it makes sound strategic sense for them to invest in NFV. This is because LTE services, such as VoLTE, require new network functions that must be developed on the IP Multimedia Subsystem. VNFs offer a cost-effective and rapid way to introduce new network functionality, while at the same time preserving the flexibility needed for on-going modification.
Operational efficiency and improvement in provisioning are often cited as the key benefits of NFV, however, there are others that are equally significant. For example, NFV enables operators to move to a DevOps business model. They can use the technology to create new services, and devise a multitude of variations to their legacy services, at their own pace, and with much reduced costs (because they don’t have to modify or buy new hardware to change or develop their services any more). This in turn enables them to adapt to their customers’ requirements, and to target new customer segments, more quickly. In other words, NFV helps operators to be more inventive and competitive.
VNFs are easier to test and validate than their hardware counterparts
NFV also delivers significant advantages for service validation and pre-launch testing procedures, providing the capability for creating multiple replica virtual networks. This avoids the usual bottlenecks inherent in physical testing environments when developing and introducing new services. With NFV, cloud-based replica test networks can be deployed rapidly, duplicating exactly the characteristics of the customer network, at low-cost, for a relatively short period of time, as and when required. In this way, services can be developed and tested in parallel, eliminating the test queue. This allows for a greater number and frequency of service innovations.
Open platform solutions ensure that operators do not restrict their long-term adaptability
Though NFV is adaptable by its nature, operators must still be wary of committing to a single, closed environment, using solutions that only work with one supplier’s components. Standardisation is work-in-progress for NFV. In the meantime, it is not good strategy for operators to limit the adaptability of their networks by selecting just one vendor’s solution – being so focused undermines the whole concept of virtualisation. Instead, operators should be aiming to select ‘open’ platform solutions for their NFV requirements – solutions that offer enough flexibility for constant evolution.
NFV enables operators to run their networks more cost-effectively, leaving more time for service innovation, which will be achieved more efficiently. This delivers a better quality network overall, and leads to happier subscribers. However, these benefits will be realised only by developing a new DevOps business attitude that is innovative, adaptable and customer-focused, and which requires the deployment of open platform NFV solutions.
The author of this blog is Chris Haddock, head of Marketing, OpenCloud
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