Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are looking to virtualization as a means to enable innovation through the introduction of new services, creating an aggressive time-to-market strategy and as a way to stay ahead of the competition.
CSPs face a number of potential roadblocks which includes long cycle to get to market due to manual operations and rigid traditional backoffice systems; high maintenance costs for network operations and integration; the lack of a single point of responsibility and expertise; and an overall lack of knowledge and standards in the industry.
So far, there have been trials, proofs of concepts (PoCs) and demos where operators and vendors work together to show – in most cases – small-scale success stories involving orchestration, Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs), Virtual Customer Premises Equipment (vCPE) implementation or even Virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC) deployment. But unfortunately, very few of these examples get converted into commercial deployments.
The challenge for operators is to commercialize their Software Defined Network (SDN), Network Function Virtualization (NFV) initiatives and launch it in a full scale fashion in the market. In fact by some accounts, less than 10 percent of PoCs convert into commercial deployments. This startling fact is not lost on operators as well as vendors, both of whom are taking a hard look at why it’s taking so long to get SDN and NFV across the chasm and into full production.
Crossing the Virtualization Chasm
One of the major causes for lack of full scale operationalization is the operators’ shortcoming with their existing network management and siloed operations support systems (OSS), which limits their ability to effectively fulfill and assure services in a hybrid environment. In many instances operators have taken a very myopic bottom-up approach where they have deployed solutions solely to manage the VNF components, which does nothing but add complexity to an already complex hybrid physical and virtual network environment. In addition to that lack of alignment between service fulfillment and service assurance, operators’ networks may also lack integrity between service configuration and device configuration, automatic discovery and reconciliation capability, real-time policy driven service management, evolution of centralized catalog to manage and blend both virtualized and non-virtualized services, and multi-party compensation and revenue management capability, all of which can hinder commercialization of SDN and NFV.
Another key aspect to maximize commercialization potential from SDN and NFV is ‘Cloudification’. In the world of virtualization it is not just enough for applications and functions to be ‘cloud ready’ but they need to be ‘cloud native’. In order to be “cloudified,” native services need to be architected to run in the cloud and have the ability to dynamically scale and recover from failures in a scale-out manner in a heterogeneous and hybrid cloud environment. Our engagement with operators across the globe clearly points out that this is an area where the market is still in its infancy.
In addition to these technology shortcomings, a lack of standardization is also often cited as a reason why SDN and NFV deployments are stuck in a rut. Operators are finding it difficult to provide requirement specifications to vendors without a standard language and framework in place, and they are also extremely concerned about a general lack of understanding surrounding best practices in transitioning from legacy to SDN and NFV.
Beyond the technical and standardization issues, the mainstream adoption of SDN and NFV suffers from much more complex issues which are related to organizational siloes, lack of business processes and lack of skill sets. In many instances commercial and business sides of the CSPs are not involved in SDN and NFV initiatives, there may be reluctance from in-house IT organizations to become the single point of responsibility for SDN/NFV initiatives, and there often is a general lack of experience and availability of people with the right skills.
Clearing the Field for Virtualization
To address the challenges of virtualization, operators will be looking for things like lifecycle automation, plug-and-play business enablement tools and centralized governance of their SDN/NFV operationalization program by an experienced partner.
But in order to unlock these solutions, operators need to bring in a strategy that encompasses everything from a complete NFV infrastructure stack and full suite of professional services to end-to-end Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) and management and an agile platform for future products and services.
Standards such as NFV Management and Orchestration (MANO) have become integral to managing virtual functions, and essentially act as the go-to standard for implementing NFV, but there’s still the need for an overarching solution that operates in real time and allows for the automated creation and teardown of virtual functions with the provisioning, fulfillment and assurance features CSPs currently enjoy with more traditional services. Next-generation service management and orchestration systems need to be top-down and be able traverse and manage a complex, hybrid services world, involving a combination of virtualized and non-virtualized network resources.
Agile Virtualization: The Next Step Towards Operationalizing NFV
To help operators move down the path from virtual functions to MANO, Netcracker has introduced an Agile Virtualization Platform & Practice (AVP), a powerful combination of tools, processes and best practices, alongside professional services offerings. In our experience, AVP’s open source-based technologies give operators their best chance to increase operational efficiency and lower their time-to-market through lower integration costs and optimized planning, deployment and usage.
An agile virtualization platform brings together all of these features to help operators minimize risk while accelerating SDN/NFV commercialization. They include:
- Hybrid Operations Management (HOM): Expands real-time MANO operations to the operations support and readiness (OS&R), assurance and fulfillment domains and enables DevOps support
- Business Enablement Applications: Covers customer engagement and monetization, allowing out-of-the-box capabilities such as an NFV store, self-care portal, product catalog and cloud broker along with integration to MANO and the existing backoffice support system (BSS) stack
- Virtualization Development and Operations Center: DevOps-supported toolbox for the development of new platforms, tools, functionalities and integration within an operator virtualized ecosystem
2016 is being viewed as a make or break year for commercializing SDN and NFV, and if operators take that next critical step, they can finally move past simply giving SDN and NFV a chance and truly leverage everything the technologies have to offer. For operators that are starting down the complex road to transformation and the ultimate end goal of becoming true digital service providers, an agile virtualization platform will be a vital piece of the puzzle to operationalizing SDN and NFV and finally reaping all the benefits of this new approach.