28 APRIL 2016

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is shaking up the telecom industry, completely changing how service providers are designing, deploying and managing network services. Critical network functions that used to be tied to expensive hardware appliances are now being re-designed to run in the cloud as software, and accessed over the Internet.

NFV Benefits
Why is this change causing such a stir?  Because NFV can deliver a host of benefits. For instance, by eliminating the need to constantly install and update expensive hardware, service providers can now use (and pay for) only the amount of services that they need.  This ‘elasticity’ means no longer having to predict and purchase what will be needed 3-5 years into the future. It also allows service providers to easily scale up to test new products and services, and then just as easily scale back down again. Getting instant access to the latest system upgrades is another benefit, which translates into better overall network performance, and the ability for service providers to get new services to market more quickly and cost-effectively. And the need to store, maintain and manage all that network hardware simply goes away.  That’s right, with NFV, the need to purchase and install new equipment is virtually eliminated.

NFV Challenges
Although NFV provides many benefits, the transition will not be easy. Operators must overcome some significant challenges related to the management, monitoring, and assurance of a virtualized network. For starters, NFV’s success will rely upon high-performance, virtualized network appliances that can easily be moved between different hardware vendors and hypervisors. Maintaining network stability and service levels without degradation during appliance load and relocation will be critical.

Another key challenge is that the path to total virtualization will be a rather messy one, and it will certainly not happen overnight. With all the capital investments required and the management challenges ahead, we expect operators will use a piecemeal approach to slowly deploy NFV components over the coming years, which means they will have to operate hybrid networks with both “legacy” and NFV elements living side by side. This requires virtual network appliances with the flexibility to run on practically any hypervisor and hardware configuration, and to integrate “on the fly” into network operators’ existing systems. They will need to co-exist with legacy hardware-based network platforms, while still allowing a migration path to a fully virtualized 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.

Solutions for Managing the Transition
While this sounds like a difficult transition, there are some interesting management scenarios under development to help service providers cope with these challenges. One of the most promising is called ‘Closed-loop Functionality’, which is designed to automatically ‘heal’ and optimize networks running on both traditional and virtualized infrastructures. It’s like a Nanny for your hybrid network- keeping an eye out for problems and automatically resolving issues that happen throughout the day.

The Hybrid Closed-Loop Network
‘Closing the loop’ between the virtual and non-virtual network is an ongoing process that requires analyzing and correcting performance by closely tracking and monitoring critical data. It requires configuration, performance and fault management systems to constantly check for problems that may arise, then communicating with both the NFV MANO and the non-virtual network to correct the issue.

The NFV MANO is the framework for the management and orchestration of all resources in the NFV network. This includes computing, networking, storage, and virtual machine (VM) resources. A key function of the NFV MANO is to allow flexible on-boarding and avoid the problems that can result from the rapid spin-up of virtual network components. The MANO itself is intended to have some closed-loop capabilities as well, however they do not answer the needs of hybrid networks. Even in the simplest hybrid use cases, the NFV MANO will not be able to support end-to-end network monitoring.

At TEOCO, we believe that with tomorrow’s hybrid network challenges, end-to-end network monitoring is critical for success. In fact, it’s the only way operators will gain the ability to assure their entire network as a whole.  Our years of research and development in this area has put TEOCO at the technological forefront, thanks in part to our involvement with several TM Forum catalyst programs focused specifically on improving the closed loop process for hybrid/NFV network performance. This in turn has benefited our product portfolio, allowing us to lead the way in integrating hybrid closed loop capabilities into service assurance solutions.  To learn more about TEOCO and how to manage the transition to NFV, visit us or schedule a demo at the upcoming TM Forum Live! Event in Nice, from May 9 – 12, 2016.


TEOCO’s closed loop process

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