OSS/BSS Featured Article

NFV: The Future of Service Creation, Delivery and Management

September 15, 2015

We literally are standing at a crossroads in the evolution of how network services providers can and must transform their network architectures so that services creation, delivery and management is more agile, secure, scalable, faster, reliable, accessible, less costly while at the same time providing a seamless and compelling user experience. 

The good news is that because Cloud IT innovations have gone from being viewed as disruptive to being mainstream, the resulting push to further virtualize service provider networks—borrowing heavily from enterprise IT Software Defined Network (SDN) concepts and crafted by the communications industry into Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) initiatives aimed at leveraging virtualization to achieve all of the goals above—in just a short period of time have become the consensus path for architecting a future-ready network for the future. 

However, getting from here to there is not without its challenges. This is why the virtualization revolution will unfold in an evolutionary manner.  The best analogy is not unlike the building of a modern skyscraper.  We know what the building will look like from the exterior, the hard part is figuring out the best way to design and populate the interior with both infrastructure and details for each floor, i.e., who needs what, where, why and how. In addition, there must be consideration of legacy capabilities of potential tenants and landlord concerns about tenants’ current and future needs and how to accommodate them cost-effectively as needs and the type of lessees change. 

Why the skyscraper is analogous to the service providers transitioning their networks is that even though NFV is roughly three years-old, there is already a consensus at a high level that it is the future/foundation of service provider network architecture. And, it will be open source-based to accelerate both innovation and adoption.  However, as the saying goes, “The devil is in the details.”

The need for orchestration of virtual network functions—MANO a MANO

Pardon the use of another example, but using NFV is like assembling a Lego based on looking at the finished piece.  In short, the process of all of those components needs to be orchestrated so that the desired result can be constructed.  In the case of NFV and the corresponding activity within ETSI, the candidates for capabilities that can become virtual network functions (NFVs) are busy being identified and many are in fact being virtualized.  However, the full value of being able to optimize their performance can only be achieved and harnessed by a larger and broader perspective.

This broader perspective is what orchestration is all about.  It combines the Management and Operations of those Networks as well as the Management and Operations of the Services and business processes in a combined orchestration.  In fact, this type of combination was on display at the recent TM Forum event in Nice, France in the form of the ZOOM (Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management) program. The program’s goals are: “To develop Virtualization and NFV & SDN best practices and standards in order to create a living blueprint for a new generation of service provider support systems to deliver true business agility and new digital services and revenue opportunities.”

As noted, getting from blueprint to finished project is complex.  For instance, we all now have been educated on the fact that NFV transforms the network by increasing its programmability and agility. However, knowing which functions to virtualize first, how to deploy orchestration and which are the most valuable new service scenarios has to be part of the transformation discussion from the start.  After all, we are talking about network infrastructures which will reside in service provider network for years which means the benefits and risks of new technologies and how they will impact carrier operations and their ability to create differentiated competitive advantage going forward are to say the lest non-trivial.

Reality is that the full value of NFV will only be fully realized when the network transformation is a part of a broader Business transformation.  As Oracle Communications has noted in regard to its participation in ZOOM and the company’s virtualization commitment: “Network agility through intelligent Network Orchestration coupled with Business orchestration will truly impact the business fundamentals. 

An illustration of how this combination will look highlights the value creation potential of the combined MANO-centric functions.

Source:  Oracle Communications

Indeed, the Oracle Communications commitment to enabling communications service providers (CSPs) to begin their migration to NFV is strong.  The objective is to allow CSPs to build the foundation architecture that Oracle correctly points out sits at the intersection of network and business orchestration for business transformation that can help resolve challenges now and is future-ready.   

For example, in the network Oracle Communications’ solutions for Diameter Controllers, Session Core, Routers, and Policy Servers on an industry-standard platform provide a first step toward implementing a foundation for migration to an NFV framework.  The key here is the deliverable.  The path to an almost totally NFV environment has to start with enabling CSPs to deploy multi-tenancy virtualized solutions in their core network signaling domains. After all, without robust high-performance signaling there is no way to properly deliver services to customers.  

To help CSPs on their way, as noted Oracle is not just committed to NFV but is already offering virtualized versions of important network and IT functions now including:

  • Oracle Communications Core Session Manager (OCCSM)
  • Oracle Communications Diameter Signaling Router (OCDSR)
  • Oracle Communications Converged Application Server (OCCAS)
  • Oracle Communications Mediation Controller (OCMC)
  • Oracle Communications WebRTC Session Controller (OCWSC)
  • Oracle Communications Applications Orchestrator
  • Oracle Communications Network Service Orchestrator (OCNSO)

Plus, in alignment with the principles driving the TM Forum ZOOM project, Oracle’s portfolio includes a comprehensive set of modular Business and Operations products and pre-integrated solutions, many of them certified against TM Forum’s Frameworx and they have been rewarded by the industry with TM Forum Excellence Awards for the past three years.

The last item, Oracle’s Communication Network Service Orchestrator (ONNSO) and intelligent orchestration framework is significant as a foundational transformation element.  It leverages a flexible policy engine driven by real-time, concentrated analytics to enable network, operations and business processes programmability across their full suite of components. It provides CSPs with the critical visibility they need to be both competitive and compliant with strict service level agreements (SLAs) while simultaneously optimizing network assets and services.

It should also be noted that Oracle Communications Analytics is integrated within the intelligent orchestration framework. This is  an important tool as its ability to capture and analyze multiple types of data from multiple network sources gives CSPs the detailed information required to manage a complex NFV ecosystem and make rapid, localized decisions such as when to scale portions of the network up or down.

When it comes to NFV implementation the old saying that the bottom line is the bottom line is applicable. As noted, getting from the public network we know today to data center-centric and software defined and controlled network of the future will take careful planning. It will also take time which is why understanding the journey and the order in which things can and should be transformed is key. 

NFV will enable CSPs to rapidly define and deliver new revenue generating services at greatly reduced costs. However, as Oracle notes, “Realizing those cost savings and revenue generation opportunities depends on the reliability and durability of the software applications, underlying orchestration platforms, and ease of integration with established network and OSS/BSS elements.”

They add that: NFV, like most technology evolutions, will not be one-size-fits-all, however the software elements, platforms, and applications must be developed using proven methods and prevailing standards. Well-defined, open, and interoperable solutions will ensure that, regardless of the resulting standards, CSP networks will continue to deliver reliable services to customers worldwide.”

At times for those of us who observe what is happening in the communications industry it hard to imagine how fast NFV has come in what in communications time is an instant when it comes to transforming the network.  That said, this is about the journey and not some much about the destination since reality is unlike the skyscraper it is a moving and amorphous place.  And, in an age which I have called “The Age of Acceleration”—where the only constants are change and the speed at which it is increasing—it is satisfying to see how the solutions providers have sped up their development cycles to virtualize as much as possible as quickly as possible along with their recognition that orchestration, marrying network operations with business operations, along with cooperation and building ecosystems, is the preferred path to success.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Article comments powered by Disqus