At the beginning of June, Comptel attended TM Forum Live! in Nice, France. The emphasis in the keynote sessions was building a better customer experience, but there was an alternate, overarching topic on the show floor: software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV).
In fact, most of the conference attendees believed that infrastructure virtualisation is eventually inevitable for all telcos and the adoption of SDN / NFV was an effective way for communications service providers (CSPs) to modernise their systems, although purely virtualised environments are still years away. SDN and NFV will become integral to controlling and simplifying networks, as well as creating agile, quick-to-market services. With these technologies, operators can more easily and more economically manage the end-to-end orchestration of complex services deployed across virtualised, multi-vendor networks.
However, as new SDN / NFV deployments are introduced, they will be required to work alongside legacy networks for several years to come, requiring OSS/BSS layers to support hybrid architectures of a traditional non-virtualised and the newer virtualised approach to networking.
This potentially means that in the earlier stages of adoption, there may be an increased level of complexity, rather than a reduction. That means operators need to take a long look at their current systems and decide on a transformative or supplemental approach to modernisation, creating a future-proof environment or adding a new OSS stack for the new technology.
Comptel, focusing on the future-proof concept, recently partnered with Nakina Systems to capitalise on these possibilities. TM Forum Live! served to show that many industry leaders are already thinking about the opportunities, too. Here are three trends we noticed in Nice concerning SDN and NFV:
1. NFV is on Everyone’s Minds.
During the event, Aileen Smith, vice president of organisational transformation at TM Forum, spoke with RCR Wireless News about SDN / NFV in detail. She explained that NFV in particular was “the hottest topic at the show.” She added that when TM Forum ran a pre-conference workshop about NFV, more than 200 people attended.
At the conference, Smith said she saw a lot of attendees preparing and discussing NFV deployment. Operators and vendors collaborated in focused, agile groups, brainstorming strategies for virtualisation.
2. NFV and SDN are Putting Hardware in the Background.
In one presentation, a speaker noted that NFV technology allows CSPs to steer traffic through both physical and virtual network services. Rather than orchestrating and managing network functions across hardware appliances, many orchestrations will take place on virtual infrastructure. Another presentation highlighted how Time Warner Cable is rolling out NFV in a way that supersedes physical machines in favour of a virtual environment.
With NFV and SDN deployments, CSPs will put more emphasis on virtual software environments and less emphasis on physical appliances. Separating the data plane from the control plane presents an unprecedented opportunity to transfer a coherent control of the intelligent decisions taken in the network from distributed expensive specialised hardware to commodity hardware allowing CSPs to decrease time-to-market and significantly cut operational costs. Consequently, the virtualisation layer deployed across network, storage and computing hardware will usher in a new era of business agility, applications and responsiveness.
3. NFV and SDN Can’t Happen in a Vacuum.
At TM Forum Live!, Comptel decided to demonstrate exactly how NFV and an SDN environment can be orchestrated. Through the Comptel fulfillment platform, we can create a catalog-driven and modernised order orchestration environment across SDN/NFV networks as well as legacy networks.
The demonstration was driven from an integrated Salesforce front-office user interface, namely the Service Order Validator application – that makes relational management of customers, their services and the network – easier than ever before. The application combines Salesforce CRM functionality with back-office orchestration from Comptel Fulfillment, incorporating service catalog, order management, logical inventory, provisioning and activation to deploy a true end-to-end service complete with virtualised firewalls and load balancing functions as examples of simple VNF (virtualised network function) instantiations.
Virtual environments offer exciting possibilities, but consideration has to be made for solutions that bridge the gap between legacy and SDN/NFV, allowing CSPs to take full advantage of those possibilities. This is all the more important, as legacy equipment becomes incrementally replaced with commoditised and virtualised infrastructure. Much traditional network hardware will stay in place during the transition, leading to interim hybrid infrastructure that is both virtual and physical – with complex relationships.
OSS/BSS technology will play an exciting role in this evolution – the successful platforms will have to be able to orchestrate network virtualisation and control across multiple layers. Despite the euphoria around it, CSPs cannot focus exclusively on SDN and NFV – as front-end aspects of the business change, companies have to think about how services are created, delivered and consumed at every point in the service lifecycle.
Watch Comptel’s Steve Hateley discuss this trend in more detail: