In my previous article, I proposed developments in software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) technologies that can help further advance the benefits of cloud computing for enterprises, and that, in particular, mobile network operators (MNOs) and Tier 1 land-line carriers need to aggressively and quickly implement NFV to remain competitive. In this article, I'll tell you how.
A significant amount of innovation both from the vendor and carrier side is needed to turn these into real, actionable plans to finally change the structure and essence of what we had been dealing with for many decades (WAN). It is time to bring a new revolution to this space, especially around 4G LTE. Adding billions of devices to the network drives this complexity even higher, which, in turn, drives the need for higher speed of integration.
I believe that if we look at the centralized control plane architecture of SDN along with the virtualized nature of NFV, one can allow network administrators to place network resources where they can deliver the best customer experience at the lowest cost while minimizing even churn in every aspect of the process, especially throughout the wireless world. This could also mean that we may need to place resources at the edge of the network, using policy-based management and real intelligence driven by devices and networks.
The role of IT can easily be defined as building high-level configuration and policy statements, which can then flow through the distributed infrastructure via Open Flow. This eliminates the need to reconfigure network devices each time an endpoint, service or application is added or moved, or when a policy changes. The implications of such a scenario are what I would have dreamed about a decade ago to bring more innovation with lower cycle time and costs. The time has finally arrived for this to be done using both SDN and NFV, working in harmony.
I believe one of the most elegant ways to design such high, rich-based technologies is to distribute the architecture while building redundancies and other parameters discussed in several sections of this blog.
Now, we will examine the operations side and what applications are most suited for NFV/SDN. My top choices, given the industry, are:
- Consumer CPE
- Service assurance, SLA monitoring
- Network policy control and charging
- Tunneling gateways
- Traffic management, including deep packet inspection with massive amounts of data
- VoIP signaling
- Network engineering and optimization
- Network-based security
The first parts of the wireless network to be converted will be those that involve fewer data centers and are latency-tolerant. Things like policy and authentication and all those core-related activities are what are needed for the first step in operationalizing both SDN and NFV for mobile network operators.
Clearly, from the operational view, all network-based functions can be virtualized. However, my recommendation is to prioritize them based on the amount of legacy systems and databases that exist and get the biggest value and then move down the list until the network is fully NFV-ready.
What we already know about data plane workloads are often I/O-bound and/or memory-bound. Clearly, as I stated above, software layers as its configuration matters the most. As a result, there are a significant number of standards, such as ETSI GS NFV-PER and others, that are being worked on. Vendors are getting ready to make noise in this space.
From mobile network operators’ perspectives, it is important to start executing with dedicated NFV teams driven by CIOs. The priority is to explore the possibilities of new architectures and how analog processes can be changed to digital processes. Then these ideas must be combined and analyzed with many trials and experiments to get an optimized model for implementation. You will get one chance for implementation, but many chances of testing to develop the best and most optimized solutions in the NFV space.
My final thoughts and recommendations are to challenge your teams to ask how both SDN and NFV functions can work in harmony, including within data centers from public to private, from orchestration to automation and finally hybrid-based cloud models, using both SDN and NFV. The other challenge is to enable agile hardware and software connectivity and automation of human-to-human and human-to-machine interfaces as they exist in the wild, to seize the opportunities created by the rapid development of endpoint and mobile devices and the Internet of Things.
If such a plan is executed flawlessly, it will allow practically any MNO to deliver a best-in-class implementation in cost, capability and cycle time while maintaining lower capex. Next-generation networks achieving these goals can be used for significant innovation as we move toward the Internet of Everything and grab a bigger share of this massive $19 trillion in new revenue projected to be available by 2020.
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