Network functions virtualization was designed to help the telecom industry accelerate innovation and launch services quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. This is done primarily by replacing hardware-centric equipment with cloud native and micro-services approaches that allow key core and edge functionality to be virtualized in telecommunications networks.
Along with increased service agility, these virtualized functions provide communications service providers with the ability to seamlessly operate in a multivendor ecosystem environment and offer improved security and operational efficiencies while taking advantage of cloud technologies. The pressure to realize cost savings and drive revenues quickly while securing networks from an ever-expanding list of threats has been among the main forces driving the adoption of network functions virtualization.
As service providers fight to maintain their dominance in the communications value chain, they must be more responsive to customer demands. This means being more efficient and quickly turning services up or down, optimizing traffic on their networks and introducing new, innovative services. Network functions virtualization promises to help service providers bring about all of these benefits and more. The alternative is to risk losing customers to more agile competitors.
The transformation from hardware-based equipment to software is a journey that started many years ago by moving switching, security, and session management software sets into software loads that work brilliantly on Intel-based architecture or on servers of the service providers’ choice.
Although the transformation from hardwired and big-iron networks to cloud-based, software-centric virtualized networks is challenging, some of the largest service providers in the world are already reaping the benefits of network functions virtualization.
These benefits include networks being less expensive to operate, easier to maintain and providing more agility to build and deploy new services. The network functions virtualization revolution allows service providers to upgrade the grid and replace the plumbing in their networks while also providing IP services, IP session management, network security, network interconnection and interoperability.
For example, earlier this year du, a United Arab Emirates-based service provider deployed Genband’s network functions virtualization-based session border controller to enable industry-leading interconnect capabilities and allow seamless connectivity among disparate communications networks, a first-of-its-kind deployment in the Middle East.
So where does the network functions virtualization revolution stand now? Here are a few key trends that advance the revolution:
1. With provisioning of services (such as with virtual customer premises equipment) possible within seconds rather than hours, months, weeks or even days, services can be launched immediately with connectivity embedded. This represents a sea change for our industry because connectivity can now be bundled with applications and no longer be considered a separate service.
2. Because networks with virtualized functions are all software-driven, the ability to see into these networks, understand their performance and isolate issues is vastly improved. Network analytics may one day be as easy and convenient as Google analytics for the web.
3. Automation of certain network functions can be programmed, including adding artificial intelligence on the backend to observe the network based on policy, requiring fewer humans to manage network operating centers, which are giving way to network management services. This is another great new revenue opportunity for communications service providers as they approach their enterprise customers with new offerings (replacing maintenance service and other revenue sources that are quickly evaporating).
4. Far above and beyond operational improvements for the communications service providers, the network functions virtualization revolution will open up the floodgates for creativity, digital agility and the development of new services for consumers and enterprises, including in the exploding world of the internet of things.
5. Many service providers that we speak to are still figuring out how they want to approach this network functions virtualization revolution. Although some are simply looking to virtualize certain functions to take advantage of general-purpose platforms in data centers, others are looking to fully embrace network functions virtualization to gain all of the benefits mentioned so far, and more besides. It is important that service providers know what their end objectives are and select the right partners to help get them there.
The Revolution Will Be Virtualized
The network functions virtualization revolution means network design in the future may be as easy as spinning up virtual machines and launching new services in days or even hours — no longer taking us months or years. It is certainly an exciting time to be in this industry.
Sanjay Bhatia is vice president of solutions marketing and strategy at Genband, a company that provides technology leadership and intellectual property in network evolution and cloud-based real-time communications software solutions and services. For more information, visit www.genband.com.