March 31, 2016

Easing the Risk of Virtualization

Service providers are excited about what NFV enables but they’re having a tough time taking the next step forward.

It’s easy to recommend a solution that no one wants to touch.

Remember Aesop’s fable about belling the cat? A council of mice met to discuss what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the cat. After lots of discussion, they decided that they should tie a ribbon with a small bell attached around the cat’s neck so that they would be warned when the cat was lurking about.

Everyone agreed on the solution to the problem, but no one wanted to bell the cat.

You might have noticed that this is happening now in the world of network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN). The underlying drivers of NFV haven’t changed. Service providers are pursuing virtualization to help reduce operating costs, aggressively shorten the time it takes to bring new products and services to market, break free from vendor lock-in and custom hardware and eventually enable more innovative services on flexible, agile networks.

That’s all great but something is holding service providers back: Who’s going to bell the cat?

Because companies are changing who they are and how they do business, the issue with implementing NFV is not just related to technology. Network executives and staff are paid to keep operations running no matter what. They are rewarded for network stability and uptime. Anything that introduces uncertainty not only jeopardizes their networks, but could be perceived as a financial risk that’s probably best to avoid.

It’s worth asking, too: Is avoiding risk a service provider’s endgame or is it just a symptom that the company, as a whole, isn’t sure of its overall digital strategy? If a company knows what it wants to be and how it wants to serve its customers, it will take calculated risks to get from point A to point B.

Another issue is picking out the right ribbon and bell. Many network operators are still working on being able to support on-demand services. They have multiple complex BSS and OSS implementations that must be reconciled and consolidated to make their businesses more efficient. They’re asking for development roadmaps to get their IT environments ready for virtualization. They might not be looking for a full-blown IT transformation or they may want a more evolutionary business case. Their competitors and outdated processes are lurking just around the corner.

Where does that leave us? Service providers see the value and the promise of NFV, but some aspects of getting there just seem too risky. How do we help them take the next necessary step so that they can transform their businesses and stay competitive?

Someone needs to bell the cat. Service providers need a strategic partner that will help them take some of the risk out of operationalizing NFV. That partner will have a unique combination of networking, operations and orchestration expertise, in addition to large-scale systems integration capabilities. It won’t be a company dead-set on selling boxes or requiring a complex, single-vendor solution and calling it NFV. Instead, such a partner will have the right combination of tools, processes and professional services that can give service providers the best chance to succeed. 


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