Can the vEPC be deployed in the LTE consumer network?

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Can the vEPC be deployed in the LTE consumer network?

By: Keith Allan, Director IP Mobile Core Product Strategy, Alcatel-Lucent

This article discusses the progress in the development and operational management of the vEPC to support the LTE consumer network. It answers the question: Is the vEPC commercially viable in large-scale, LTE network deployments? At Mobile World Congress 2015, Alcatel-Lucent will show a live demonstration of vEPC dynamic scaling together with simplified NFV management and orchestration.

Over the past several years, I’ve met with many mobile network operators (MNOs) and discussed their plans for virtualizing the evolved packet core (EPC). It’s clear from the more recent conversations that MNOs are now convinced that the vEPC is both financially and technically viable for their networks.  But is the vEPC ready for the MNO’s LTE consumer network?  In this article, I’ll discuss why I now think that’s possible.

vEPC scaling and performance

Early in 2014, the vEPC proofs of concept and field trials of the Virtualized Mobility Management Entity (vMME) and Virtualized Serving Gateway (vSGW)/Virtualized Packed Data Gateway (vPGW) were limited in both scale and performance.  But as the year progressed, advancements in the EPC Virtualized Network Function (VNF) design and architecture used Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) tools and capabilities that greatly improved their capacity and performance. 

For control plane subscriber scaling, it is now possible to support up to millions of simultaneous attached users and hundreds of thousands of eNodeBs and small cells on a single vMME instance. This is comparable with today’s existing MMEs built on standard telecom hardware platforms.

In the data plane, the user capacity has increased significantly with the use of packet acceleration techniques. For example, Single Root – Input/Output Virtualization (SR-IOV) bypasses the hypervisor and enables Virtual Machines (VMs) to attach to the VNF (the vSGW/vPGW ) and share a single physical Network Interface Card (NIC) that functions as multiple virtualized NICsThis greatly improves speed and increases capacity by reducing processing overhead. These improvements, together with other software enhancements, such as the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK), have the vSGW/vPGW approaching the capacity and performance of dedicated hardware platforms. 

Converged NMS/VNF Manager: the key to seamless vEPC network operations

A lot of progress has been made with enhancements to the ETSI Management and Orchestration (MANO) architecture.  However, rather than having separate element management system (EMS) and VNF Manager (VNFM) functions, there’s been a move to converge these functions since both are integral to managing the VNFs.  (The EMS described by MANO includes both network and element management (NMS/EMS) functions).  By unifying the VNF Manager and NMS functions, an MNO can seamlessly manage and orchestrate the vEPC.  This makes it easy for an MNO to perform VNF lifecycle management functions from the same NMS that is used on a day-to-day basis for network operations.  When EMS and VNFM are converged:

  • The creation of vEPC VNFs is simplified with templated configuration and automatic instantiation.
  • The EMS functions provide collection of VNF related NFV Infrastructure performance measurement data
  • Pre-configured threshold crossing conditions seamlessly alert VNF manager functions to either automatically take action or alert network operations.  (This could be, for example, to dynamically scale out a VNF to provide more capacity to meet unforeseen demand.) 

The traditional NMS Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance and Security (FCAPS) management function is now applicable to both the EPC VNFs and the physical network functions (PNF). This enables a common and consistent approach.  This also provides the topology and logical connectivity of the individual VNFs/PNFs and more advanced performance and SLA reporting. A single manager simplifies overall coordination and adaptation for configuration and event reporting between the Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIM) and the NMS.

Troubleshooting is simplified because traditional NMS faults/events are correlated with VNF related events/faults. The VNFM provides lifecycle management and automates the self-healing of VNFs.  It uses recipes to describe the vEPC VNF, its VNF components (underlying VM instances) and their interdependencies. Each VNF component has its own recipe, which includes a description of how to monitor, self-heal, and scale it. With coordinated fault management and automated self-healing, the MNO’s Operations team will have the visibility and intelligence to understand whether alarms are caused by normal maintenance activities or are indeed an emerging issue that they need to react to quickly.  In addition, new advanced NMS approaches to network assurance visualization will speed problem assessment for both VNF and PNFs.  These developments will also provide the VNF and network event data to support reporting and analysis.

When the VNFM and the NMS are combined into a single management functional instance, the management and orchestration of the vEPC VNF and integration of the vEPC into the existing OSS/BSS infrastructure is greatly simplified.  This is because the VNFM/ NMS has complete knowledge and visibility of VNFs within the physical and virtual EPC network. 

Is the vEPC ready for commercial deployment?

Based on the progress made in both the scalability and performance of the vEPC VNFs and the advances made in management and orchestration of the vEPC, 2015 will be the year for vEPC deployments to commence at some Tier 1 mobile operators. The momentum and confidence of mobile operators in NFV will make it a reality.

Alcatel-Lucent at Mobile World Congress

Alcatel-Lucent will have a large presence at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. I will take part in a panel discussion on “Unifying Network IT and Telco IT” on Thursday, March 5th from 11.30 - 13.00.

We will also be demonstrating our vEPC at our booth. There you will be able to see the dynamic scaling of our Virtualized Mobile Gateway and the operational elegance of our NMS/VNFM system. I look forward to seeing you there and discussing how our vEPC solution can meet your NFV evolution plans.

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