NFV Presents Unlimited Possibilities for Service Providers

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) along with Software Defined Networking (SDN) is emerging to be a disruptive technology, introducing many innovations in the service provider network architecture. Service providers are looking at ways of optimizing cost, increasing ROI and simplifying the management of their network infrastructure, and NFV and SDN provides them with unlimited possibilities.

Until now, innovations in networking were mostly around increasing the throughput or packet forwarding capacity of network devices such as routers and switches. However, NFV has changed the way in which networks were designed, developed and deployed. NFV provides significant opportunities for service providers to optimize their network architecture, launch newer services, and monetize better.

Here are a few NFV applications that are getting more traction from service providers and Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs).

Virtualized WLAN Controller

Today, WLAN controllers use proprietary protocols to manage access points deployed in the network. While using proprietary protocols may be sufficient in an enterprise or campus deployment where access points are supplied by a single vendor, it may be inadequate for a multi-vendor deployment such as Carrier WiFi deployment where service providers rollout 1000s of hotspots. This brings the need for a standard protocol such as CAPWAP or OpenFlow/OFConfig for managing access points. With service providers adopting SDN, it becomes easy to virtualize select WLAN functions.  For example, WLAN Access Controller (AC) function in the Carrier WiFi network can be virtualized and run on the cloud. WLAN Access Controller functions such as radio management, policy management, and roaming can be migrated and managed from the cloud. A cloud ready Carrier WiFi solution provides the following benefits:

  • Centralized management and monitoring of both wired and WLAN networks
  • Highly scalable architecture for Carrier WiFi deployments
  • Increased programmability and fine grained control of WLAN functions
  • Unified policies for wired and WLAN networks. Policies can be created, managed and propagated from a central location for both wired and WLAN networks. For example, user Joe, a Gold subscriber of the service provider will be authenticated and authorized by the same SDN policy management application, irrespective of whether he accesses the network from the wired/DSL connection or the public WLAN hotspot or from a mobile wireless network.

Virtualized Customer Premise Equipment (CPE)

Service providers can significantly cut down on the costs and provide additional monetizable services to their subscribers, by deploying virtualized CPEs. Today, CPE provides a number of network functions such as firewall, access control, policy management and discovering/connecting devices at home using DLNA or UPnP. By virtualizing select control plane functions of CPE and moving them towards the network edge or towards the cloud, provides the following benefits:

  • Lower the costs of CPEs
  • Roll out additional features to subscribers without upgrading the Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) or Residential Gateway (RG)
  • Ease of management and service activation / customization – since majority of the services are offered from the virtual CPE running on the cloud
  • Centralized control and management of subscriber services

Adopting a SDN architecture, allows the CPE functions to be managed by standard protocols such as OpenFlow and OFConfig. OpenFlow can be used for flow table management in the CPE. OFConfig can be used to manage the device configuration of the CPE. Residential Gateway functions can run on a lightweight hardware and using a low CPU/memory foot print operating system such as Aricent’s Intelligent Switching Solution (ISS). This will result in cost reduction of the CPEs and efficient management of the CPE functions.

Virtualized OSS

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is forcing the service providers to redefine their network architecture. Today, service provider’s OSS typically has point solutions designed to manage a range of services such as Internet, VOIP, Video Conferencing and Content Delivery Networks (CDN).  OSS architectures use proprietary / non-standard network management technologies to manage the network. The closed and proprietary nature of OSS implementations reduces the programmability thereby eliminating the possibility of dynamically provisioning new network services. When a service provider adopts NFV and SDN ready OSS architecture, they can realize the following benefits:

  • Unifying the management of various network functions, by leveraging standard SDN based management technologies (For example., OFConfig and OpenFlow protocols)
  • OSS applications become more open allowing service providers to provide federation services
  • Virtualizing OSS functions and adopting an SDN architecture allows a service provider to provide value added services to customers – for example, dynamically varying bandwidth for applications as opposed to static provisioning of bandwidth.

NFV provides unlimited possibilities for service providers to realize the power of their network infrastructure to offer new and monetizable services to their customers. However, NFV is not about just running today’s network function or service on top of Virtual Machines (VM). In fact, that is the easiest part of the solution. There are lots of aspects that need to be looked at before virtualizing network functions:

  • What are the network functions that provide maximum ROI when virtualized?
  • How do you make the Virtualized Network Function (VNF) to seamlessly integrate into SDN and cloud architectures?
  • What kind of APIs that the VNF expose for ease of management?
  • How does the architecture scale for increased workloads or provide elasticity?
  • What are the different SDN controllers or Cloud operating systems that the architecture supports?
  • How does the VNF interoperate with legacy non-virtualized network elements?
  • How can the VNF support a multi-tenant architecture for sharing the network infrastructure with multiple applications?
  • How are the virtualized functions running on the cloud mapped to the physical network elements?
  • How do you bring-in high availability and automatic service failover/recovery?
  • How do you integrate with existing network management infrastructure?

Virtualization of network services and applications provide a huge opportunity for OEMs and service providers to come up with innovative offerings to their customers. Though there are lot of unknowns and challenges in the NFV segment, there is a huge interest from the industry to solve the problems in today’s network architecture by leveraging the power of NFV. We can expect to see more converged SDN and NFV applications in the market, soon.

This article was originally published in SDN Central.

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