Only a few years ago, before NFV became the industry buzzword it is today, Metaswitch took a lead in driving the notion of a software-based telco as the future of network operators. In fact, the company helped TMC start its conversation around NFV at our very first NFV related event. That conversation continues in Anaheim, California this October with a dedicated NFV content program under the ITEXPO umbrella.
Since then, the market has caught on to what Metaswitch has been preaching all along, and NFV has become a key initiative for any operator with sights set on growth. Metaswitch CTO Martin Taylor explains why in a recent conversation.
NFV adoption seems to be increasing. Why?
Network operators want to become more software-centric and to benefit from the economies of scale offered by the cloud. They want to separatehardware from software, control from data. They understand the simplicity and rapid innovation that comes with running all-IP networks. They want to ensure that their real-time communication services benefit from the same technologies and associated business models used by their competitors. And they want to adopt the virtualized compute, storage and networking resources embraced so successfully by IT departments.
How does SDN play in the move to virtualized, software-based solutions?
The relationship between NFV and SDN is multifaceted:
SDN techniques are often used to program the cloud networking infrastructure to interconnect Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) when deploying an NFV-based service. For example, when working with OpenStack as the cloud management software, the OpenStack component known as Neutron (formerly Quantum) may include an SDN controller plug-in that uses OpenFlow to program the physical switching infrastructure and the virtual switches associated with hypervisors so as to create the subnets and routing rules required to deploy the VNFs.
SDN control plane elements may be deployed as VNFs in an NFV infrastructure. In some circumstances, for example, when small scale routing or switching functions are required, both control plane and data plane elements may be implemented in software and deployed together as VNFs in an NFV infrastructure, so as to perform the routing or switching task entirely in software.
At a very high level, NFV and SDN have much in common. The central idea is the separation of hardware and software in the network, and the possibility to leverage low-cost industry-standard commodity hardware with independently developed software. Both NFV and SDN also envisage a high degree of automation in the deployment and management of network services, made possible by running NFV and SDN software in virtualized or cloud environments. SDN goes beyond NFV in that it introduces the possibility of breaking out of the limitations imposed by traditional routing protocols, enabling routing and traffic optimization to be performed in novel ways. But, realizing the benefits of this aspect of SDN will take time and, for the moment, most network operators are focused on the shorter-term benefits that are expected to come from NFV, and from more tactical aspects of SDN.
How should a CSP approach the move to NFV – one function at a time, all at once, or something in between? What defines the strategy?
A good start down the path of NFV is for network operators to look within their IT organizations and import that expertise into the network side of their businesses because IT people know how to run apps in the cloud. That’s really what NFV is all about. That’s not to say the IT cloud is immediately ideal for NFV, but it’s certainly a good starting point. Next, an operator should determine which of its network functions is easiest to virtualize and where there’s the greatest return for doing so. The carrier should try out the virtualization in its lab, then decide on next steps.
What are the biggest pitfalls/challenges to be aware of when virtualizing network functions?
Building networks with NFV will require networking experts to acquire new skills in IT and cloud, and IT and cloud experts to acquire new skills in networking. Network operators will need to be prepared to implement fundamental organizational transformation to make the most of what they enable. They will need to change their procurement mindset, moving away from the “one throat to choke” approach to the deployment of new services and, instead, engaging with best-of-breed software vendors, taking greater responsibility for system integration and applying agile methodology to deliver continuous improvement.
What is the biggest hidden benefit?
Network operators have highlighted elastic scalability as one of the most important new capabilities that network functions virtualization (NFV) offers them. Elastic scalability of network functions, based on NFV, brings two distinct benefits to network operators. First, service capacity can be flexed in real time to meet demand, ensuring hardware resources are not lying idle at times of low demand, and making it possible to handle unexpectedly high peak loads when needed. Secondly, capacity to meet growing demand for new services can be put in place just in time, without the lead times inherent in planning deployments of network hardware appliances or the costs associated with specialized installation procedures.
What about the cloud? How important is it for the carrier of the future?
The cloud is the future for network operators that want to survive. Operators that make the most of NFV and SDN will find themselves in a far better position than they are in today to compete with over-the-top services and with aggressive new entrants into the network business.
How are operators rationalizing their move to NFV?
Following the work of a leading group of Tier 1 operators in 2012, other network operators no longer wish to build their networks with proprietary appliances, but intend to rely, instead, on a generic, industry-standard hardware infrastructure with the network functions themselves being implemented entirely in software. The traditional way of building networks has always been slow, expensive and cumbersome. With NFV, operators can benefit by reducing their cost base, increasing margins and speeding up service innovation.
What should they expect from these changes, and will reality meet expectations?
The advent of NFV and SDN represents perhaps the single most important technology event in the telecom industry since the arrival of digital switching. Network operators that choose to embrace NFV and SDN fully have the opportunity to radically transform their businesses both to reduce their cost base, and to become far more agile in their ability to introduce new serviced.
In five years’ time, we can expect to see those network operators enjoying the benefits of NFV and SDN as follows:
Will 2015 become known as the Year of NFV?
Yes, in terms of market acceptance, 2015 is the year that NFV is selected as the path forward for network operators.
Group Editorial Director
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