An open source approach to drive NFV innovation
Network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networks (SDN) will play a vital role in the development and future of the telecoms industry. The hybrid network model, based on virtualised technology and hardware, has become mission critical, not just to operations but commercial success also. Telecoms is an industry traditionally steeped in proprietary solutions and insulated approaches to network development, writes Tzvika Naveh, the marketing director for NFV orchestration at Amdocs, however, the introduction of an open-source approach will help further fuel NFV and SDN commercialisation and innovation through collaboration.
The global NFV market, which includes NFV hardware, software and services, is expected to be worth $15.5 billion by 2020, and operators are set to reap the benefits from this investment. Moving to virtualised infrastructures will allow operators to accelerate innovation, in a reliable and cost effective manner. They can rapidly commercialise new services, offer valued-added options to existing and new services, and ensure continuous updates depending on customer demand.
New services and a new network model
NFV will underpin new use cases, services and business models, which will include – in the short term – VoLTE and ViLTE (video over LTE). Operators can achieve this by using virtual IMS to better scale up and down to meet and target customer demands for mobile services.
These new services will differentiate operators in a landscape which today encompasses not only competing operators but also OTT web scale players. It will highlight the need for closed-loop operations to deliver on the promise of NFV – more service agility, reduced manual processes with automation and orchestration, intelligence to enable predictive assurance, and faster time to innovation.
The development of these new services will require a new hybrid network model. This will be used for the foreseeable future, with existing legacy physical network elements interworking with new virtual elements, across different network domains. Operators that take a modular but holistic approach to accelerate service design, instantiation and operations in the hybrid network will be the first to realise the full benefits of NFV.
However, operators also require a new approach that allows the entire telecoms community to exchange knowledge and expertise, which will help accelerate innovation and SDN/NFV adoption, providing a common framework to address the complexity of on-boarding virtual network functions (VNFs). Fortunately, underpinning the introduction of NFV/SDN and VNFs is a new open source approach which can be utilised by CSPs across the industry to drive innovation in this space.
Open source community
Earlier this year, the Linux Foundation introduced Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). This initiative leverages a community of service providers, vendors and systems integrators; allows the telecoms community to exchange knowledge and expertise; and provides a common framework for real-time, policy-driven orchestration and automation of physical and virtual network functions.
ONAP comprises open source platform ECOMP, which was initiated by AT&T and co-created with Amdocs, and Open-O, another open source project backed by a consortium of mobile operators. ONAP is backed by giants such as AT&T, China Mobile and Comcast, and essentially represents 55% of the global subscriber base today. A strong ecosystem of partners, including the likes of Orange and Bell Canada, are emerging to support and drive industry progression and the standardisation of NFV. With the number of members constantly growing, ONAP is due to become the de-facto industry standard open source platform for NFV/SDN automation.
ONAP can help to accelerate R&D and the commercialisation of new services. By tapping into an open source community, the roll out of new services can be streamlined, resulting in reductions in cost and shorter time to market. The standard will also affect the cost and ease of switching VNF supplier, reducing the vendor dependence and ‘lock-in’ typical with proprietary solutions.
ONAP can also enable operators and vendors to collectively control the risk levels associated with virtualising a network. Greater transparency means it’s much easier for members to collaborate with each other, in order to understand their NFV automation and orchestration needs and address potential obstacles in their NFV roadmaps. As the community grows and new code is introduced, it will be constantly scrutinised to ensure compatibility with open network architectures and tested to ensure that it is secure.
A services-led approach
There are many paths forward for operators to accelerate the use of NFV/SDN in their networks, and open source is one of them. The ultimate goal is to reap the efficiencies of NFV sooner and innovate faster. However in order to achieve this, service providers need to be in a position to successfully introduce and manage new virtual services. In order to achieve this, operators must partner with experienced systems integrators that have a deep technical understanding of open source, and how to best apply it in a new network environment.
Where traditional network equipment providers and independent software vendors are now offering solutions for the virtual network – dynamic, virtual network functions on white box hardware – there must also be a focus on the services that run over the hybrid virtual/physical network and the lifecycle processes to manage them. In developing a virtual network architecture, operators can ensure their network is service-aware, and that network and service operations deliver optimal efficiencies while also enabling a great customer experience.
Open source market dynamics are shaping the future of telecoms industry. This kind of approach is allowing operators to address the time to market challenges which currently prevent them from launching new virtual services. The launch of ONAP has introduced a standardised way of automating NFV/SDN infrastructure, creating a viable method of rolling out virtualisation technology. The telecoms sector is still in the early stages of its transition to SDN and NFV architected networks. However, an open source approach, with the backing of industry heavyweights and right partners to help service design, will serve to expedite and ease this shift, driving innovation and commercial success.