Why Carriers Are Embracing NFV, and What They Should Demand of These New, More Agile Environments

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Why Carriers Are Embracing NFV, and What They Should Demand of These New, More Agile Environments

By: Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC

Service providers are undergoing a sea change.

Their networks, which traditionally have been based on turnkey network elements running software on purpose-built hardware, are moving to a software-centric model. In this model the true value lies in the software, while the hardware is typically of the commercial-off-the-shelf variety.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is the name of this new architecture, which not only embraces the model of instituting network functionality in software and running it on industry-servers, but also allows applications and services to leverage those resources whenever and wherever they are.

The success of virtualization in the data center has demonstrated the power of running network capabilities on virtual machines. That’s powerful because it allows networks to be more fluid so they can meet shifting demands. It’s also powerful because it can result in cost savings, given less – and less specialized – hardware is required, and given virtualized environments (in which one server can host various network elements) tend to consume less power than environments featuring a collection of appliances.

NFV also can help facilities-based network operators effectively reinvent themselves to be more agile, so they can better compete with faster and often smaller over-the-the-top service providers.

Reducing equipment costs and power consumption, and expediting the introduction of new services and features were among the key goals laid out by ETSI’s NFV group, which got the network functions virtualization movement rolling a couple years ago. Founders of the NFV group within the European standards body included AT&T, BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Verizon.

Network operators that want to get started with NFV, suggests Andreas Lemke, marketing lead of the CloudBand NFV platform at Alcatel-Lucent, should take advantage of what he describes as “5 must-have attributes of an NFV platform.”  These include:

  1. Distributed cloud infrastructure:  Give application developers fine-grained control over the placement of network functions and sub-functions, and automatically find the optimal workload locations based on service provider policies and resource availability
  2. Automated cloud nodes:  Highly automated and pre-configured since while it can take a week or more to install a regular cloud node, an NFV cloud node can be bootstrapped and configured in a matter of hours, with most of the work performed remotely.
  3. Automated application lifecycle management:  The pure software nature of NFV applications enables more efficient lifecycle management processes. In the best case scenario, a new service can be deployed at required locations with the push of a button, without having to procure and install new equipment.
  4. Network automation: NFV applications must be embedded in the network at the LAN and WAN levels to achieve the desired performance and availability.
  5. An open and multivendor environment:  The NFV platform must be an open, shared environment capable of running applications from different vendors. Vendor-specific NFV silos with vendor-specific hardware and platform capabilities defeat the purpose of NFV.

Finally, and as important as all of the technology, Lemke says that those wishing to get started with NFV should select partners that can provide the same five 9s reliability, quality of service, and security in the new virtualized environment as they enjoy with their existing networks.

There is a growing industry consensus that NFV will become the architecture of the future for networks that are agile, applications friendly, high-performance, interoperable and secure.  In fact, not only is there consensus but there is traction in the market for NFV solutions as service providers look to transform themselves to be as accommodating as possible in a profitable manner to the dynamics of rapidly changing market requirements.  However, not all NFV solutions are alike which is why the Lemke attributes list is one worth consideration as part of an NFV evaluation. 


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