There’s good reason for this. Separating network functions into discrete elements, which can be activated and managed in software, disrupts the notion that communications services can only be delivered by expensive and inflexible custom hardware. NFV can help providers build agile, flexible infrastructures, while they finally achieve a level of sustained profitability.
So has 2015 been the year of NFV? Mass adoption could still be a while away, but the accelerating progress we’ve seen over the last 12 months alone indicates that we’ve reached a tipping point.
The Changing Conversation
Business leaders whom we have talked to confirm that there is a shift in thinking. No longer are internal discussions focused on whether it makes sense to adopt NFV. Instead conversations are around when and how to adopt it.
That’s remarkable when you consider that it was just about three years ago that we got together as an industry to even start talking about NFV. Today we have 38 multicompany, public, ETSI proof of concepts (PoCs) that have been completed or are underway. These tackle different aspects of the common NFV framework architecture that we have agreed on as an industry under the auspices of the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG).
Besides these, many individual companies have engaged in other private PoCs. In labs all around the world the shift from interoperability to integration is taking place, as CSPs have started asking the tough operational questions.
As a sign of industry maturity and the will to accelerate adoption via cooperation, an open source forum – the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) – has formed to help carry out this integration in a common way and address CSP concerns. This effort, less than a year old, has already generated its first software release . Besides using open source to achieve interoperability and standardization, there is a need for a framework that can accommodate rapid change. Creating such an evolvable framework is one of OPNFV’s goals. That we’ve come to the point where this can even be discussed is notable.
How We Got Here
The market dynamics that once allowed for customized, hardware-driven communications networks are either fading or dead. Look at how the Internet has cheapened the consumer cost of transcontinental communications to near zero. Or how smartphones and tablets make video easier to produce and share. Serving the new market for communications services and keeping pace with ever-shifting demands and expectations requires a new communications infrastructure that can support creating and modifying services at Internet speeds. NFV helps solve this problem.
At its root, NFV presents a layer of abstraction that allows for a uniform hardware infrastructure that lets the services scale and change more easily than in the hardware-defined voice networks of the past. Traffic in the CSP networks have evolved from voice to video and much more. For example, Netflix and YouTube now account for over half of all broadband traffic during peak hours. Retrofitting the current mobile networks to handle current traffic patterns can only take us so far, and this would have to be redone as traffic characteristics changed further. With NFV, these same networks can be evolved to handle different types of traffic as needs change.
As our industry worked to realize the NFV concept and start the transformation process for CSP networks, we realized that we were on a journey that requires us to evolve through various technology phases. New capabilities would emerge along the way, enhancing agility, lowering costs, and unleashing other business advantages.
Therein lies the really good news. Whether or not 2015 is the year of NFV, a CSP willing to take the lead and adopt the approach does not have to wait for all the technology advances to be made or all the issues to be resolved. They can jump in now and start to reap some of the benefits. I will elaborate on this aspect another time.
For now we can say that an evolutionary approach is possible, and depending on a CSP’s specific business environment, attaining some of the business benefits of the NFV approach is already within reach.