Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are looking to virtualization as a means to enable innovation through the introduction of new services, create an aggressive time-to-market strategy and to stay ahead of the competition.
So far, there have been trials, proofs of concepts (PoCs) and demos where operators and vendors work together to show – in most cases – small-scale success stories involving orchestration, VNFs, vCPE implementation or even vEPC deployment.
The challenge for operators now is to commercialize their SDN, NFV initiatives and launch them in a full-scale fashion in the market. By some accounts, less than 10 percent of PoCs convert into commercial deployments. This startling fact is not lost on operators as well as vendors, who are taking a hard look at why it’s taking so long to get SDN and NFV across the chasm and into full production.
Crossing the Virtualization Chasm
Major causes for lack of full-scale operationalization are existing network management and siloed operations support systems (OSS), which limit operators’ ability to effectively fulfill and assure services in a hybrid environment. In many instances operators have taken a very myopic bottom-up approach where they have deployed solutions solely to manage VNFs, which adds complexity to an already complex hybrid physical and virtual network environment.
In addition to this lack of alignment between service fulfillment and service assurance, a lack of integrity between service configuration and device configuration; a lack of automatic discovery and reconciliation capability; a lack of real-time policy-driven service management; and a lack of a centralized catalog to manage and blend both virtualized and non-virtualized services, multi-party compensation and revenue management capability all hinder commercialization of SDN and NFV.
Another key aspect to maximize commercialization potential from SDN and NFV is ‘cloudification’. In the world of virtualization, it is not just enough for applications and functions to be ‘cloud ready’ but they need to be ‘cloud native’. In order to be cloud native, services need to be architected to run in the cloud and have the ability to dynamically scale and recover from failures in a scale-out manner in a heterogeneous and hybrid cloud environment. Our engagement with operators across the globe clearly points out that this is an area where the market is still in its infancy.
In addition, operators are finding it difficult to provide requirement specifications to vendors without a standard language and framework in place, and they are also extremely concerned about a general lack of understanding surrounding best practices in transitioning from legacy to SDN/NFV.
Beyond the technical and standardization issues the mainstream adoption of SDN and NFV suffers from much more complex issues that are related to organizational siloes, lack of business processes and lack of skill sets. In many instances, the commercial and business sides of the CSP’s business are not involved in SDN and NFV initiatives, and there is reluctance from the IT organization to become a single point of responsibility for SDN/NFV initiatives. Often, there’s also a general lack of experience and availability of people with the right skills.
Clearing the Field for Virtualization
Standards such as MANO have become integral to managing virtual functions and essentially act as the go-to standard for implementing NFV, but there’s still the need for an overarching solution that operates in real time and allows for the automated creation and teardown of virtual functions with the provisioning, fulfillment and assurance features CSPs currently enjoy with more traditional services. Next-generation service management and orchestration systems need to be top-down and be able traverse and manage a complex, hybrid services world, involving a combination of virtualized and non-virtualized network resources.
Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) is a step in the right direction as it brings to the table an all-encompassing platform for NFV operationalization, including services, methodologies and business practices. More specifically, LSO is an integral means of bridging the physical and virtual worlds, which will need to coexist for at least the next decade if not more. In essence, LSO is the next evolutionary step from traditional OSS/BSS that also adds in SDN/NFV software along with the underlying hardware infrastructure.
And while LSO is a critical step in the right direction, and something all CSPs going the virtual route need to seriously consider, it’s not the ultimate end game for bringing NFV out of the lab and into production.
Beyond LSO: The Next Step Towards Operationalizing NFV
As operators move down the path to large-scale commercialization of virtual functions, they still face a number of potential roadblocks, including a long cycle to get to market due to manual operations and rigid traditional BSS/OSS; high maintenance costs; the lack of a single point of responsibility and expertise; and an overall lack of knowledge and standards in the industry.
To address these issues, operators need experienced partners who will help them with lifecycle automation and provide distributed virtual applications with high reliability and the scalability to open up and interface with traditional BSS/OSS and other mission-critical systems for quick extensions without large-scale transformations. Additionally, partners need to provide centralized governance of their SDN/NFV operationalization program and provide process, skillsets and best practices to make the CSP’s journey to virtualization disruption-free.
This powerful combination of tools, processes and best practices, alongside professional services offerings, gives operators their best chance to increase operational efficiency and lower time-to-market through lower integration costs; optimized planning, deployment and usage; and open source-based technologies.
2016 is being viewed as a make or break year for commercializing SDN and NFV, and if operators take that next critical step, they can finally move past simply giving SDN and NFV a chance and truly leverage everything the technologies have to offer.