NFV and SDN Reloaded : Get cracking laggards !!

According to Deutsche Telecom CEO communication networks are facing a lack of scalable and sustainable architecture to meet the challenges ahead in terms of data traffic increases, video uploads and downloads, and enhanced M2M communication. But employing software-defined networking (SDN) techniques could help mobile carriers overcome those hurdles and attract new data-centric revenue streams.

In a nutshell, SDN delaminates the data and control planes of the network and NFV virtualizes the functional elements of the network—routers, switches, firewalls—and expresses these functions as programs that run on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) IT hardware. While they are distinct technologies, the two work together in concert to turn the network into an infinitely programmable dynamic mesh, versus a hardware-based static map. Where SDN is the network admin gone virtual; NFV is the gear gone virtual.

Today’s mobile networks are limited and built upon a best-effort design, but that means they have latency issues and cannot dedicate high bandwidth to a particular user on the fly. Network virtualisation highlights the transformational path that operators are willing to take to counter the stress that financial pressures are putting on profitability while effectively and efficiently monetising data growth and reducing vendor lock-in. This trend clearly shows that, in order to be sustainable in the near-future, operators networks will require the right amount of mobility, ultra high-speed networks, cloud computing, big data analytics and security.

A new study from forecasts that the NFV, SDN and wireless network infrastructure market will reach $5 billion by the turn of the decade, driven by rising global wireless capital expenditures and growing demand for high-speed mobile broadband. Wireless carriers will play a critical role in the SDN value chain, and that carriers will initially focus on southbound APIs and switch fabric, SDN and virtualization that will enable IMS optimization and realization of investment, and that by 2016 carriers will focus more on northbound APIs and create full development environments.

Network virtualisation allows operators to simulate network resources through SDN and NFV technologies that decouple, run and optimise different functions of the network.The industry is evolving from proprietary equipment networks to IT-based data centre networks that employ technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN), network function virtualisation (NFV), cloud-computing and big data analytics to provide a variety of converged services to consumers. NFV is highly complementary to SDN. Network functions can be virtualised and deployed without an SDN being required and vice-versa.

Network virtualization requires deep cultural shifts for carriers, changes that executives, managers, and staff may find it difficult to keep up with. Network rules are changing, but carriers often don’t keep up. For example, network operators are still obsessed with achieving five nines of reliability for their equipment, when the important thing is five nines for the service. Traditional network management means managing hardware, rolling trucks and installing equipment on-site. Virtual networks requires configuring software:more precisely, managing the code that manages the networks. Managing that code requires familiarity with IT tools ,while traditional network management software relied on command-line interfaces.

Zero-touch, Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) project is an effort spearheaded by TM Forum to step back and take a broader look at where operations support and billing support systems need to be in the long run as part of the adoption of network functions virtualization (NFV). ZOOM is intended to define the forum’s vision for a virtualized operations environment and to define the architecture needed to support that environment.That will include helping service providers rethink their business and operations practices, since those must change along with the systems and software. The operators driving this effort include AT&T Inc,Orange , Sprint Corp.Telecom Italia SpA.They are joined by vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp.

Surprsingly, communications service providers (CSPs) themselves, not vendors, are driving the development of network virtualization technologies. The potential to dramatically accelerate new service delivery, lower operating costs, and eliminate vendor lock-in has CSPs salivating and network equipment vendors scrambling. Vendors who sell proprietary network gear don’t exactly welcome the thought of their intellectual property being replaced by standardized software running on commodity hardware which has pushed the timeline for SDN and NFV further out.

The virtualization of service and control functions in the core network was the first step in using cloud computing technology in the telco domain. However, for a full telco cloud implementation, virtualization needs to be complemented with a complete cloud platform and management system. This must include classical network management for legacy systems, plus virtualized network function, cloud orchestration and application management to achieve the full benefits of automated provisioning and elastic scaling of the network.

Driven by the promise of total cost of ownership reduction, wireless carriers are aggressively jumping on the NFV and SDN bandwagon, targeting integration across a multitude of areas including radio access network, mobile core, OSS/BSS, backhaul, and CPE/home environment. Telecom Italia has been among the tier 1 telcos driving the move to NFV. Along with AT&T, BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefonica and Verizon, the company a couple years ago pushed network functions virtualization into the spotlight by creating an ETSI group to explore the technology.

Telefonica’s UNICA platform is initially focused on virtualising signaling-related functions, including IMS (IP multimedia sub-system, DNS (domain name system), SMSC (short message service centre) and OCS (online charging system). The second phase will look at virtualising functions that carry traffic such as the core packet network. Telefonica’s NFV programme is notably designed to “source different functions to different suppliers” and avoid vendor lock-ins. The company wants to design a virtualised network architecture that allows vendor interoperability.

Among the many capabilities offered by UNICA is the idea of multi-tenancy (where the same basic solution works for multiple organisations) or NaaS (Network as a Service), using pre-installed templates to deploy virtualised equipment in real time and with integrated resource management.UNICA promises to offer real and permanent change for Telefónica’s network transforming the company into a true Digital Telco.

Meanwhile AT&T, has introduced its vision for the company’s network of the future: the ‘User- Defined Network Cloud.’ AT&T claims their the cloud-based architecture is “a global first at this scale.” The operator also announced the group of vendors that will work on implementing this strategy. The carrier expects its revamped architecture will accelerate time-to-market for technologically advanced products and services. Integrated through AT&T’s wide-area network (WAN) and using NFV and SDN, the architecture is expected to simplify and scale AT&T’s network by separating hardware and software functionality, separating network control plane and forwarding planes, and improving functionality management in the software layer.

Traditionally, Telcos have had strong engineering-based cultures and are rightly proud of the success those cultures have helped them deliver.Yet while Telcos are highly interested in being innovative, their current cultures aren’t aligned with attracting digital talent. As Telcos move into new areas of growth, they will need to engage new types of talent, particularly digital talent, and consider new policies that challenge their existing employee value propositions and organizational cultures. aaah Yes…Telcos its time to beef up your software engineering skills fast if you want to implement and sustain NFV/SDN networks.

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )


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