After years of intense debate, the case for the move to network functions virtualization (NFV) has now been accepted by operators of all sizes and preparations are underway to ensure a smooth transition. As we move from concept to real operational deployments, how many service providers are truly ready to switch to this architecture?
The answer is, probably very few.
Interoperability of virtual and physical
Early teething problems are accepted in most new technologies but when these issues lead to a loss of mobile or fixed service, the public can be unforgiving because market expectations don’t allow for any downtime, so it is critical NFV systems are fully validated prior to any deployment. In addition to operational and interoperability issues, the continuing trend of rapidly rising data traffic volumes means stress testing is also of vital importance.
Most operators are planning to upgrade to virtualized infrastructure and will make the move gradually with the least critical functions used to test the architecture before more mission-critical changes are made. This means there will be a (potentially lengthy) period where both virtual and physical assets will have to run in parallel with each other. This requires complete interoperability testing between all NFV elements and legacy equipment to ensure that users experience no degradation or loss of service.
Operators’ data with destiny
Every day data usage continues to rise, and with the advent of new technologies and use cases, this is likely to continue its acceleration in coming years. 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and continued growth in mobile video consumption, will further increase demand for high-bandwidth mobile data and an unprecedented number of live connections.
To support this need, virtualized test beds are quickly becoming integral to carriers’ test, assurance, and security facilities. The emergence of IoT means that virtualized test tools must emulate hundreds of millions of connected devices in addition to supporting subscribers consuming data-heavy services on the network, such as streaming video, downloading music, or browsing the internet.
In addition to stress testing for legitimate traffic, engineers must also ensure they examine their facilities against the worst case scenario of an amplification attack. These security incidents are becoming increasingly common on cellular networks. In this type of breach, criminals bombard websites, service providers, and individual IP addresses with huge volumes of traffic to force outages. This is hugely damaging to a service provider’s reputation and very difficult to defend against.
While proactive prevention of these incidents is a priority, it is also important to ensure in the event of a successful attack, the network is able to cope with the sudden influx of traffic. DDoS attacks are becoming increasingly large in scale, and to ensure service continuation, all assets must be completely stress-tested – which includes this new virtual network architecture.
NFV is a step into the future, offering agile network facilities plus opex and capex savings. However, to ensure its success it is vital these virtual resources are subject to robust stress and interoperability testing using real world and worst case scenarios. Without testing, operators risk wasting the significant investment already made in R&D and the beginning stages of validating the underlying infrastructure.