5 JUNE 2017

Just a couple of years ago, it looked as though Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) would change the telecom world overnight. NFV/SDN would lead to the elimination of vendor silos and provide the benefits of automation and cloud technology, with the ability to scale up or down on demand. And it would be this network of the future that would help drive new agile services and new business models made possible by 5G and the Internet of Things.

The Devil is in the Details
While most of this still holds true, reality has since settled in a bit for service providers, who are finding NFV deployments to be more of a challenge than initially expected. There are several reasons for the delay that can be summarized in three broad categories:

Business Case Uncertainty – Service providers are feeling uncertain about the business benefits that the new technology brings. How much of NFV/SDN is hype, and how much is real? Before making any major investments, they want to understand the scope of what NFV and SDN can do. What is the real business case? What will be the return on investment? Naturally, CSPs want answers before making drastic changes in their network and operations. According to Roz Roseboro, a senior analyst at Heavy Reading, “Service providers that expected to have virtualized 20% of their top priority functions by 2017 have pushed those plans out to 2018 instead.

Lack of Standards and Interoperability – In addition to wanting more clarity around the business case, service providers are also concerned by the mostly uncoordinated growth of partners, vendors and systems ecosystem, and the “Lack of clear NFV management and orchestration standards, poor multivendor interoperability, and the challenges of linking virtual networks to existing operations and business support systems,” according to Lee Doyle of Doyle Research. A lack of standards means that we won’t have the ability to integrate across vendors, technologies and systems. In this environment, it won’t be possible to create pre-integrated, off the shelf solutions, leading to higher expenditures and longer implementation times – exactly the type of phenomena that NFV and SDN are aiming to eliminate.

Cultural Shift – Another culprit might have more to do with cultural rather than technological hurdles. Innovations in 5G, IoT and NFV have resulted in a disappearing boundary between network and IT, pushing operators to become more agile and responsive; requiring them to adopt a more DevOps-driven approach, where service providers need to innovate like fast-moving software companies. This is proving to be a challenging transition for many CSPs accustomed to dealing with large vendors and multi-year projects. Questions arise around critical issues. ‘Which processes need to change, and how do I change them?’ and, ‘How do I operationalize these changes?’ These things take time to sort out, but in an era that is quickly moving towards things like 5G, microservices, network slicing and mobile edge computing, this culture shift will need to happen, and happen fast.

Too Many Cooks?
The industry is working to address some of these issues in hopes of making this transformation a bit easier for CSPs. Standards bodies, research groups, foundations and educational institutions have all entered the mix, wanting to have their say in how things progress. So many in fact, one must ask if we aren’t suffering from ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’. Many of these groups are doing great work, including ETSI, 3GPP, IETF, TMF, ONAP, OMA and many others, but with so many separate factions, each with their own timelines and priorities, our ability as an industry to reach consensus and move forward with universally agreed upon standards is starting to seem like a pipe dream.  Nevertheless, we must persist. It’s a necessary process because the alternative – doing nothing – is even worse. Eventually, in Darwinian fashion, winning ideas from various groups will prevail – at least in theory. The process may not be elegant or expedient, but for the most part, it works.

Building a Path to Success
At TEOCO, it is our belief that each organization should bring their respective expertise to the table and do what they can to contribute towards building a successful, standards-driven path for NFV/SDN. Being a leader in the Service Assurance space, TEOCO believes this is where we can contribute the most, leveraging our decades of experience in assuring complex networks globally.

For example, our work on TMF Forum’s catalyst program over the past several years has led to continued progress in areas like service assurance for hybrid NFV/legacy networks. Managing “legacy” and virtualized networks side by side is a challenge that needs to be addressed, since for most operators this transition will take many years. To overcome the management, monitoring and assurance challenges of hybrid networks, configuration, performance and fault management systems need to closely track for potential problems. “Closing the loop” is an ongoing process that requires constantly improving performance and preempting degradations. To do so, advanced automation and analytics are key enablers.

TEOCO’s involvement in the Zoom project (Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management), and our work with the Hybrid Infrastructures Management Platform team, have supported the development of best practices for both the technology and business requirements brought about by NFV and SDN.  And with regards to multi-vendor interoperability, TEOCO has joined the Blue Orbit ecosystem supported by Ciena.  Until recently, partnerships have been a nice but not necessary way of doing business for traditional network infrastructure suppliers. But SDN and NFV have made partner ecosystems more critical than ever, not just for individual companies, but to help the entire industry progress.  Creating ecosystems like this will help solve some of the DevOps challenges CSPs face, by providing a ready-made community of members dedicated to testing, demonstrating and delivering real-world, multi-vendor SDN and NFV solutions.

To learn more about ways to make your NFV transition more successful, download the Heavy Reading Whitepaper on Overcoming the Service Assurance Challenge of a Hybrid NFV Environment,