Today’s communications service providers are looking at virtualization technologies for their core network infrastructure services. A lot of talk about cloud has transitioned to discussions surrounding SDN, and now CSPs are creating a lot of buzz of their own with the development of network functions virtualization.
NFV is a working group within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute to determine how the drive for software and virtualization can benefit CSPs. NFV is designed to virtualize services in the next-generation networks such as 4G LTE’s (News - Alert) evolved packet core. This means that services such as VoIP and rich communications services could migrate from proprietary platforms to COTS hardware as virtualized software running on industry standardized platforms. Services within the CSP (News - Alert) network such as the SBC or SIP proxy are primary targets for virtualization and the NFV committee.
While virtualization and the elimination of hardware dependency is one of the primary goals of NFV, it is important to understand that the full benefit of this transition to a software-based model is not only due to the cost savings from COTS hardware. Once the applications and services become virtualized, it’s possible to create a managed and orchestrated ecosystem that is able to leverage the benefits of not having services associated with discrete performance, availability, and distribution restrictions.
Virtualization is the foundation that enables all of the other NFV benefits. Without proprietary hardware, the availability and performance of services becomes much more dynamic because resources can be added and removed as necessary and the services can be enabled in locations based on need rather than physical proximity. This abstraction of the service means that the operator has the flexibility to apply resources only as necessary. It also means that the service can be made available anywhere, as long as the virtualization infrastructure has been established. The application resource may be available and enabled in one or more locations while being utilized by customers in other non-distinct locations.
The abstraction of the application is actuated through the programmability of the infrastructure. It does not make sense to create a flexible and dynamic environment if it still requires custom interfaces and manual management of individual elements such as the virtual machines, network elements and traffic steering application delivery controllers. For NFV to succeed, standard and open interfaces need to be made available throughout all of the infrastructure elements. These APIs need to allow for the collection of analytics and data from the network elements and also be able to deliver remote management control capabilities to configure and control these functions. Programmability also gives the operator the flexibility to adjust the delivery of the services provided as business and network needs change over time.
Last, to create a unified, flexible ecosystem, it is necessary to orchestrate all of these services and components that have been delivered by multiple vendors and solution providers. Orchestration provides the means to analyze the data received from all of the disparate elements. At the same time, operator defined policies can be used to automatically determine the proper actions and reactions needed to adjust these same elements (as well as other components) to create a robust and dynamic ecosystem.
With these four key aspects – virtualization, abstraction, programmability and orchestration – the creation of a dynamic, flexible, service-oriented infrastructure starts to become a reality. The ability to automatically add and remove capacity based on real-time demands and without physical constraints becomes a reality. NFV is helping drive operators and providers toward this goal by delivering a common vision and architecture. Virtualization has become the driver to create the self-aware and self-healing network that everyone has been promised, and NFV is poised to deliver the framework.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi