Today’s telecom networks are made up of various, expensive hardware components. When telecom providers want to launch a new service this often means more hardware, which means finding the space, power and money to support it. Add to this the fact that hardware has increasingly shorter life spans as newer versions come on the market, which makes for a much lower return on investment.

NFV, or Network Functions Virtualization, is a new way to design, deploy and manage networking services. NFV removes many critical network functions from proprietary hardware appliances so they can run as software. This may not sound like such a big idea at first, but it’s actually revolutionary.

While the concept of NFV is primarily still in proof of concept stage, the market is projected to surge over the next three to five years. In fact, the recent Infonetics report “Carrier SDN and NFV Hardware and Software Market Size and Forecast” predicts that the NFV and SDN markets will reach $11 billion globally in 2018.

NFV is predicted to deliver a host of benefits, including a higher return on investment, lower CapEx and OpEx, shorter time-to-market for network services, more flexibility to scale up or down as needed, greater ability to support new partnerships and ecosystems, as well as making it easier and less risky to test and deploy new services. With NFV, the need to install new equipment is virtually eliminated.

But the transition will not be easy. Operators must overcome some significant challenges in the management, monitoring, and assurance of a virtualized network. For starters, it will need to be simpler to operate, with high performance virtualised network appliances that can be moved between different hardware vendors and hypervisors. Maintaining network stability and service levels without degradation during appliance load and relocation will be critical.

These virtual network appliances will need to run on any hypervisor and hardware configuration, and integrate “on the fly” into the network operators’ existing OSS, BSS, EMS, NMS, and orchestration systems. They will need to co-exist with legacy hardware-based network platforms while enabling an optimal migration path to a fully virtualised network. And finally, the management and orchestration of virtual network appliances alongside legacy management systems will need to be secure and protected from attacks and potential configuration errors.

The MANO, or Management and Network Orchestration Layer, helps to keep everything in line in the virtual world. It includes the NFV Orchestration layer, which is responsible for on-boarding of new Network Services (NS), VNF-FG and VNF Packages, managing the NS lifecycle and global resource management, validating and authorizing NFVI resource requests and policy management. Another component of the MANO is the VNF Manager, which manages the full lifecycle of VNF instances, including overall coordination and adaptation for configuration and event reporting between NFVI and the E/NMS. Lastly, the Virtualised Infrastructure Manager (VIM) is responsible for controlling and managing the NFVI compute, storage and network resources within an operator’s infrastructure sub-domain and it provides the collection and forwarding of performance measurements and events.

While the MANO oversees things in the virtual world, it doesn’t do much of anything on the physical, non-virtual side of the fence, and the transition to NFV will not happen overnight. As service providers begin to virtualize some key processes within the network, they will also still need to support their legacy non-virtualized environment. As with many other ‘new’ technologies, this hybrid network will most likely be the norm for many years to come as new functions and processes transition to a virtual environment over time. This will require visibility to traffic blind spots that can arise between physical and virtual networks, and within virtualized physical hosts.

This is an area that TEOCO has been working in extensively through our participation with the TeleManagement Forum and our Catalyst Program called ‘Closing the Loop- the Next Phase.’ The Catalyst demonstrates a practical implementation of closed loop functionality used to heal and optimize converged networks running on both traditional and virtualized infrastructures. It uses a variety of network and service KPIs to detect inefficiencies and churn/revenue risk conditions to automate core & RAN optimization.

‘Closing the loop’ between the virtual and non-virtual network is an ongoing process that requires constantly improving performance based on closely tracking and monitoring critical data. This includes network and service configuration, performance measurements and business/operational data. It requires configuration, performance and fault management systems to constantly check for problems that may arise, communicating with the NFV MANO and the non-virtual network. Improvements can be either short term ‘healing’ to cover temporary issues, or longer term changes for broader network optimization.

Managing a hybrid virtual/non-virtual network includes an ongoing four step cycle that begins with 1) analyzing the network to identify problems or areas for optimization, 2) recommending solutions 3) implementing these solutions, and 4) collecting network data to test the results.

Hybrid virtual/non-virtual networks will need to be closely monitored with this process to ensure optimal performance. Virtual networks include virtual network services along with virtual functions, and a mix of virtual and physical IT components. The non-virtual portion of the network includes traditional network services, physical network elements and element managers. These two worlds must work and exist in tandem, seamlessly communicating and performing without fail. Add to that the complexities of a typical multi-domain, multi-vendor, global network, and one can easily see the importance of the ‘closed loop’ process. Checks and balances are critical.

At the upcoming TM Forum conference in Nice, France, TEOCO and our Catalyst partners will be presenting several use cases related to the challenges of managing virtual and legacy, multi-domain networks. These include:

  • NFV Closed loop – Virtual Core Auto-Scaling
  • NFV Multi-Domain Closed Loop – a Mobile Access Service problem
  • NFV & Legacy Closed Loop – a Physical server problem
  • OTT Problem & Resolution at the Corporate level
  • NFV- Scaling Policy Modifications

As an Editor at TM Forum stated, “The biggest lesson learned so far is that the network is no longer static. In a virtual world, it’s dynamic, and that means big changes to the way network operators handle service orchestration and service level agreements (SLAs) with their customers.”

To learn more about TEOCO’s involvement in TM Forum’s Catalyst program and how we’re helping to shape the networks of tomorrow, please watch this short video.

We hope that you will be able to join us at this event. To book a demonstration or meeting in Nice, please contact us.