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It’s easy to point to the success of the Web cloud titans such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, and Microsoft and say that the telecom industry should follow the lead in creating the new telco network functions virtualization (NFV) cloud. But it’s not that easy as telco applications and services have wildly different requirements, including more stringent needs of low-latency connectivity, security, and regulatory compliance.
If you think about how the most popular Web clouds were built, they are often targeting specific applications. Amazon grew up hosting Web applications for startups, which may have a requirement for scale but can tolerate low latency. Netflix hosts the world’s largest content cloud, but that’s it – it needs to focus on moving content but not securing business communications. Google has the most famous cloud for applications such as search and email – but when’s the last time you were prepared to rely on Google Hangout for a sales meeting with your most important client? Didn’t think so.
Future of the Telco NFV Cloud
What does the future of the telecom network functions virtualization (NFV) cloud look like? There appears to be widespread commitment to the adoption of NFV technologies by the leading global telecoms to pursue a cloud model for delivering new services — but we know it won’t look exactly like the popular Web clouds – it will be specifically tailored for global communications and content applications.
Let’s take a look at specific requirements of the telco NFV cloud and how it differs from the Web cloud.
Most of the applications targeted by global operators involve communications: Business communications, data-center connectivity, and mobile communications. Many of these are state dependent and require significant amounts of security as well as an understanding of the global network and related connections. It’s clear these enterprise-class requirements will be a higher bar for the telco NFV cloud.
Web providers were beneficiaries of a regulatory vacuum that allowed them to slip through to launch new services in an unregulated world. Netflix was able to welcome “cord cutters’ by offering content streamed over the top, and Skype let you make phone calls without connecting to the regulated phone system. Service providers don’t have the luxury to abdicate responsibility for regulatory compliance and audit, so the telco NFV cloud will need to have better regulatory and compliance capabilities.
In most cases, the telco NFV cloud services will require low latency – unlike most Web applications. Corporate VPNs cannot be connected with best-effort Internet, they require quality of service built into the telco NFV cloud.
Just as the Web players didn’t have the same regulatory burden of the telcos, they also did not share the burden of supporting a large legacy infrastructure, with layers and layers of hardware and software installed during previous generations. Telcos, for example, must link new equipment deployments to existing Operation Support Systems (OSSes) and Billing Support Systems (BSS).
Conclusion: The Telco NFV Cloud Is Different
So how do such requirements change how we build the telco NFV cloud? In general, it will require a special breed of equipment and software tailored for the communications industry. This equipment, even if it’s built on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, will have to have some specific hardware and software improvements to deliver lower latency, higher performance, as well as high-grade security and compliance features. We have covered some of these additional requirements in “Inside NFV Performance Techniques,” “Why Security Will Be Key in NFV,” and “Inside NFV Business Transformation.”
To get there, this will require cooperation across equipment and software platforms to develop a new generation of reliable, yet interoperable, platforms. One key will be the cooperation of service provider industry groups that can work together to insure multiple domains (Internet, optical, telco data center). These are the elements being worked on in industry groups such as ETSI, TM Forum, and the MEF – in addition to the traditional Internet standards organizations such as the IETF.
Despite these challenges, it’s clear that the telco NFV cloud is here to stay – with large service providers such as AT&T, Telefonica, and Vodafone already committing to new architectures to support a new model that combines the scalability of the Web with the service reliability of the worldwide communications infrastructure.