As service providers look to upgrade their legacy networks and systems and tap new revenue sources, there will be a focus on what is required for capex savings and the deployment challenges involved. Their approach to software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) will vary depending on the growing number of use cases for global carriers, MSOs, mobile operators, data centers and others in the communications industry – a 360˚ perspective looking at all areas of focus is key to long-term success.
The ability for customers to easily consume more services on their own terms is an essential consideration in both the short and long terms. Success will be driven by northbound development solutions. This will include self-service activation of services and ensuring that all the basics are covered in terms of billing, reporting and trouble repair.
One approach is to start small, keep it simple and demonstrate a tangible outcome so the foundation for future expansion can be built upon for long-term sustainable growth. But there are challenges to get through first.
Challenges to Solve with SDN/NFV Implementation
It is normal to face challenges in the early stages of major technology introductions, from both the vendor and service provider perspectives as innovations mature and grow. SDN and NFV are no different. In fact, they are perfect examples, as a few have successfully implemented them while others are considering their ROI. It looks as if all conversations point north.
First off, there is a dearth of industry standards for northbound development – an issue that could slow momentum of the communications industry to evolve with customer demands. But there are use cases that have not even been thought of yet, so the lack of standardization does allow for flexibility and innovation, which is the primary reason for its lack.
In the past, the question may have been how to convince companies of the value of software-defined networks. The good news is that is no longer a problem. Companies and analysts alike are convinced – it’s a $157 billion market. The challenge is that the leaders pushing ahead with SDN and NFV need to step up and show the way with clear standards. This will provide the necessary successes that will spur demand for jumping on the bandwagon.
As companies work on their proofs of concept in the SDN and NFV arena – with bandwidth on demand, virtual CPE, data centers, etc. – they will be looking for leadership and clarity on how to define their PoCs for design, development and deployment, then how to put them into action to generate new revenue through the use of end-user customer portals.
Additional challenges that are being faced today for SDN include the following:
- Performance, scale and flexibility
- Programmable architecture
- Security and policies
- Service creation environments
- Automation and interoperability with legacy systems (hardware and software)
- Management and operational support models
In terms of NFV, challenges may include the following:
- Scheduling of service chains across the environment
- Scale and optimization
- Levels of automation and interfaces with VNF and OSS/BSS platforms
- Multi-vendor environments
- Monitoring and delivery models
Two key items that are essential to the above are culture and training. Cross-functional teams need to be able to solve problems and create services in a new way – and training on the technology, platforms and processes is equally important, to the point it becomes part of your organization’s DNA.
These challenges are all part of the journey as service providers and vendors enhance and build upon their solutions. In some cases, new challenges will emerge as you continue down this path. The key is the ability to deliver tangible outcomes along the way that will allow teams to build upon success: reduce expenses, launch a new service, improve customer metrics, etc.
Where is the Best Place to Start?
This will depend on use cases and service providers themselves. Some providers start with NFV to create strong foundation work, while others begin with SDN. Many have combined both SDN and NFV approaches directly out of the gate. Whatever approach is adopted, providers will focus on the below for new revenue streams:
- Southbound development and integration with the various SDN and NFV offerings
- Northbound orchestration including two elements:
- APIs into network control system (NCS)
- Northbound orchestration that unites and enhances the OSS/BSS systems and platforms
- Customer portals for self-service activations, etc.
Those three items are integral to success and require a tremendous amount of collaboration across people, process, systems and technology to create a winning outcome. There are lots of moving parts that need to be linked and integrated to truly deliver a winning solution – automation is critical. There is also a tremendous amount of learning and knowledge share that needs to take place from engineering, operations and marketing (to name a few) as well as a focus on the user experience and customer engagement. The ability to effectively capture the voice of the customer to guide your efforts and enhance your offerings is extremely important to driving success.
Areas to Think about for PoC Success
The devil will be in the details (especially in the security arena) so tight collaboration and communication among the service provider, the customer and the supplier will be essential. These areas require attention so providers can easily overlay additional services in the future: security, control and management reporting tools, workflow management, and centralized monitoring and visualization, etc.
Revenue impacts and customer experience have to be balanced and are critical during the planning process and complex service migrations. Well thought-out decisions for how to migrate legacy core networks and corresponding back-end systems and processes will be a game changer.
A Trend of Dynamic and Flexible Solutions to Capture Market Share
Several vendors/suppliers (both traditional and emerging software companies) are trending to assist the communications industry move towards more open, dynamic and flexible solutions. There are several good examples in the marketplace that exemplify how to address multiple vendors in a service provider’s ecosystem. This opens the door for developing pricing models and go-to-market strategies for new services.
Some challenges, known and unknown, are on the way with SDN and NFV, which is typical as technology matures and adoption increases. However, hungry SDN/NFV adopters will quickly focus on revenue enablement and market share opportunities. They will ensure that this technology is driving the innovation layer, beyond a pure cost-savings approach.
Essential for executing a winning strategy will be a 360˚ view of technology, software and integration with the various elements, including strong marketing and operational plans.