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Service providers take cautious approach to NFV implementation

Service providers' strategies for NFV implementation are designed to minimize disruption while transitioning legacy architectures to a virtualized world.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) is a critical part of service providers' plans to deliver new applications and reduce costs. Providers are approaching NFV implementation in phases to ease migration challenges and maintain service reliability.

Major service providers have built large, complex networks that offer a range of voice, video, Internet and managed services. These networks rely on a wide assortment of network building blocks, including optical equipment, routers, wireless gear and broadband equipment. This equipment typically comes from a number of different suppliers and must be linked to data centers and internally developed operations and billing support systems (OSS/BSS).

All large service providers rely on these existing networks to deliver reliable (wireless and wireline ) service to their consumer and business customers. Thus, NFV implementation must incorporate a plan to coexist and transition from legacy architectures to the world of network functions virtualization.

These plans reflect a cautious and staged approach crafted to limit disruption of providers' current network architecture. As a result, most CSPs will introduce NFV into their networks in phases -- selecting network elements and use cases that provide the greatest benefits (and lowest risk). Here are four phases that describe service providers' potential NFV implementation journey:

Adoption of commercial servers -- Commercial servers are a critical component of telecommunications networks. This phase involves the migration from purpose-built hardware to software running on general purpose servers. NFV will expand the use of commodity servers in the network as leading IT and network equipment providers offer software-based versions of their equipment (e.g., customer premises equipment, firewalls, routing, IP Multimedia Subsystem video and evolved packet core).

NFV is poised to transform the telecom network by offering service providers a foundation that increases agility and makes it simple to rapidly deliver new services and reduces costs.

Virtualization of software functions -- Existing network software applications must be rewritten to run optimally in virtualized data center environments. Telecom requirements are often very different than cloud-based applications. Telecom IT systems must be highly reliable (99.999% uptime), and must guarantee high performance and scale to support hundreds of millions of users. NFV suppliers need to test and tune the performance of their applications to meet the demanding telecom requirements in virtual environments.

Elasticity capacity required -- Part of the promise of NFV is the ability to easily scale up and scale down applications based on network load, time of day and special events. Running NFV applications in a virtualized data center can offer elastic (cloud-like) capacity. The challenge for NFV suppliers is to deliver the appropriate management, automation and orchestration capabilities to allow service providers to easily scale up or scale down specific virtual network functions (VNFs).

Service chaining -- The ultimate goal of NFV is to service chain a number of VNFs across the network to enable delivery of a specific service or application. In a broadband network, these services would include orchestration of routing, deep packet inspection , content delivery networks and security. In a mobile network, this would cover the implementation of a complete evolved packet core. Evolving NFV standards will make this orchestration especially complex in multivendor supplier scenarios. In addition, this orchestration engine will need to tie to specific OSS/BSS implementations.

NFV is poised to transform the telecommunications network by offering service providers a foundation that increases agility and makes it simple to rapidly deliver new services and reduces costs. Service providers are currently testing NFV in a number of use cases. Over the next five years and beyond, leading providers will approach NFV implementation in a phased approach, encompassing migration to commercial off the shelf, virtualized applications, elastic capacity and full-stack orchestration.

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This was last published in May 2015

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