Last year was a pivotal one for NFV orchestration, at least as a concept. While broad implementation of an NFV stack is still years away for many service providers, 2014 saw many operators like AT&T (via its ambitious Domain 2.0 initiative) flesh-out plans to further virtualize their networks via cloud, NFV and SDN as a way to keep a lid on costs and bring new services to market more quickly.
NFV and SDN validation with QualiSystems CloudShell
With legacy infrastructure still in place, though, the road to cloud, NFV and SDN has potential pitfalls in making the transition from mostly physical assets to software-defined architectures. A cloud management platform such as QualiSystems CloudShell doesn't assume the presence of a particular type of infrastructure (e.g., that everything is already virtualized). As such, it can help bridge the gap between old and new, enabling DevOps innovation and, more specially, the building of agile dev/test processes and clouds from bare metal, through features such as:
The introduction of NFV will take place gradually, which makes a comprehensive tool like CloudShell invaluable during the transformation. Investments by service providers in NFV and SDN could reach $21 billion by 2020, according to SNS Research, and having a modern DevOps solution will ensure that these dollars get the best return.
Carriers eye cloud, SDN and NFV management/orchestration projects for rest of the decade
Last December, AT&T furthered its aggressive strategy to virtualize its network, announcing that it planned to have 75 percent of its infrastructure using software-driven technology by 2020. At that time, it also enlisted Cisco, Ciena and Brocade as partners in Domain 2.0, broadening its efforts to facilitate development of next generation cloud, NFV and SDN solutions.
What do AT&T and its peers expect to get from overhauling their infrastructures? An obvious clue can be gleaned from AT&T's CAPEX expenditures, which are already trending downward. While the carrier spent $21 billion on CAPEX in 2014, it's expecting to spend only $18 billion this year. Extensive use of open source hardware and white box hardware have been cited by the company as contributors to reduced CAPEX outlook.
Implementation of NFV in particular is important to making the network more agile and adaptable as well as enabling it to address issues, such as increased latency and chatter, that SDN may introduce. The pairing of NFV and SDN is widely seen as critical to the evolution of carrier architectures from legacy to virtual and cloud environments.
"Services like VoLTE are good candidates for NFV implementations."
"We have always felt that the sole benefit of NFV can be reached only when you have SDN underneath it," Dan Pitt, director of the Open Networking Foundation, told FierceWireless. "NFV is a good short- and medium-term strategy, but the long-term strategy is really the complete transformation of carrier software away from monolithic OSS and BSS and appliance-based modules into a truly modular software-controlled [architecture]."
Overall, 2015 represents an opportunity for NFV to become "real" and move from siloed proofs-of-concept into production networks. This shift won't be without without its challenges, both on the technical and cultural fronts, which are to be expected in light of how software-defined architectures blur the traditional boundaries between development and operations.
Services like VoLTE are good candidates for NFV implementations. At the same time, rollout of cloud infrastructure, supported by cloud automation tools, can support analogous tasks such as DevOps innovation and supply chain management that make the shift to software-centric networks worth the investment.
The takeaway: NFV has become integral to service provider roadmaps for the rest of the decade. The use of virtualized network functions, software-defined networking and cloud management platforms will transform networks, but a years-long transitional phase is likely in order as legacy infrastructure continues to be used. Cloud automation solutions like CloudShell can ease the transition and enable DevOps as architectures evolve.