Date:   Wednesday , May 11, 2016

Software Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are some of the newest technologies affecting telecom operators around the world. These technologies will create new services to increase revenue faster while increasing efficiencies to reduce costs.

Telecom service providers regularly need to add capacity, functionality, and new services to cater to the needs of their clients. Unfortunately, this labor-intensive process involves months to procure equipment, perform tests, ship it to a specific location, and finally to deploy it.

Indian telcos are realizing that their network infrastructure has to be agile and flexible enough to meet the rapidly growing and changing needs of their customers. Further, legacy networks are incapable of meeting the needs of emerging trends like Internet of Things (IoT) and smart cities, thus forcing the service providers to upgrade and modernize their networks for a new kind of traffic mix.

Software-powered NFV is likely to play a key role in the network transformation of the Telco networks. Virtualization offers a host of possibilities in delivering converged, scalable and cloud-based services in a cost-effective manner. A recent IDC survey commissioned by Ciena revealed that 64 percent of Asia-Pacific businesses are at some stage of NFV deployment. Nearly 80 percent of the survey respondents believed that NFV implementation would make network management easier through automated processes and provisioning. The survey further revealed that 15 percent of enterprises in most markets, including Hong Kong and India, are ready to adopt NFV for its carrier-class security features.

NFV: Paradigm Shift for Telecom Networks

Just as data centers have adopted virtualization as the de facto operating model, the technology will bring a paradigm shift in telecom networks. Simply stated, service providers will leverage NFV for enhanced programmability in the network, less complexity and faster time-to-market in introducing new products and services. A few service providers, such as AT&T and Telefonica, have already initiated virtualization strategies in their networks to reap these benefits.

While these service providers are leading the way with an early start, a carefully deliberated and well thought-out strategy is imperative in order to achieve maximum benefit from deployment. Ineffective deployment can actually lead to software silos, thus killing the very purpose of implementing a virtualization strategy.

Service providers need to keep a few things in mind before deploying NFV technology. Of great importance is that the approach must be \'open.\' NFV requires a high degree of cooperation and interaction between various solutions providers and network operators, which is best facilitated by leveraging industry standards and open source approaches as the foundation.

In addition, the solution should focus on smooth orchestration of services and integrate diverse resources and feature open APIs. A perfect virtualization deployment leads to easier customization for integration with OSS/ BSS.

Growing Relevance of Micro Services Architecture

A modular NFV solution is emerging as a popular approach, because it offers a truly open platform. Traditional or first-generation NFV solutions were developed as monolithic, non-modular software applications, which were not easily scalable to handle large networks and thus were not suitable for adoption by service providers. Customization was also not possible on these systems.

However, recent developments in second-generation NFV solutions solve some of these early challenges. Specifically, the evolution towards micro services architecture is making it easier to deploy third-party solutions, because each service is focused on doing just one thing autonomously. This approach also ensures that in case of a problem it doesn\'t lead to a total closure of the platform. It is easier to isolate and rectify the issue.

In fact, AT&T believes that micro-services architecture will help them to virtualize 75 percent of their network by the year 2020.

Virtualization is an absolute must for Indian service providers as the industry moves towards a data centric market. Government initiatives like Smart City and Digital India further make it imperative for the service providers to have an agile network, which allows them to dynamically shift resources as per the changing business scenario. Deployment of NFV will also enable them to address Quality of Services (QoS) issues and to offer innovative services in a timely fashion.

There is little doubt that NFV leads to enhanced network flexibility, reduction in costs and opportunity for new revenue streams. However, migrating a large telecom network to a virtualized environment is a complex task and demands immense coordination and a well-thought out strategy. The second-generation modular and open NFV solutions provide a perfect opportunity to service providers to transform their networks to take advantage of the web-scale world.