July 3, 2014

Expert Q&A: Breaking the SDN/NFV Hype Cycle with Orchestration (Part 2)

In this Q&A with one of NetCracker’s SDN/NFV experts, we take a hard look at the hype cycle and cut to the chase on what Orchestration is and why operators need it to move SDN and NFV’s promised benefits from myth to reality.

In Part 2 of this Q&A (visit Part 1 here) with one of Netcracker’s SDN/NFV experts, we look at some of the key practicalities relating to SDN and NFV-enabled services, service fulfillment challenges in hybrid networks, and policy management's role in service and network orchestration.

Q: What are some of the earliest applications you’ve seen for NFV that benefit from or require this kind of orchestration you describe?

A: With virtualized networks it will be fairly easy to reconfigure some parts of the network to provide more bandwidth to specific types of applications. So, for example, video over 4G can be managed and provided more effectively in terms of network utilization and optimization. The first wave of services we will see should take advantage of the fundamental ability to make networks far more efficient in terms of resource utilization in the face of explosive demand for capacity and managed connections that we’re seeing in the mobile environment.

Q: Why is service fulfillment even more challenging in this shifting, hybrid network environment?

A: Think of it this way – even in a packet network environment, we’ve had some level of predictable and static design in terms of how connections are created, where resources are located, and how capacity, switching, and other resources are utilized. But once you move to a virtualized network, very little is static anymore – it all goes dynamic. That means that a service definition, for fulfillment purposes, needs to be able to account for the fact that resources are allocated dynamically. We’re moving completely away from the old, linear aspects of “design and assign” that we knew in the copper world, and which somewhat carried over into the packet world. Now we are going to a model where fulfillment is based on a service’s specific requirements and meeting those in an on-demand fashion in real-time or near real-time. To account for this, we have an orchestration catalog that is designed to make fulfillment processes and service definitions highly flexible in order not just to survive, but to help an operator benefit from this kind of dynamic network and service environment.

Q: When you talk about concepts like ‘on-demand’ and ‘real-time’, it evokes many real-time policy management concepts. Is an Orchestrator essentially a policy manager?

A: Policy definition, management, and execution are absolutely key parts of network and service orchestration in virtualized and hybrid networks. The Orchestrator is definitely a policy-driven solution. But, it’s not only a policy manager. Policy is one component of the end-to-end and top-to-bottom picture for delivering and managing services. So the orchestrator comprises and accounts for policy requirements, but goes beyond them. So, if you look at our announcement and see where we mention features like service lifecycle management, the orchestration catalog we discussed, and our analytics capabilities, these may all relate to or impact policy definition, management, and execution in some way, but they go far beyond the typical role of just a policy manager.

Q: Given all of the hype we are hearing around SDN and NFV, where do you place the overall industry on the maturity curve when it comes to large scale adoption of these technologies?

A: The industry, by and large, is still in the earliest stages with this technology. Most of what you see on the operator side today is proofs of concept and trials, as opposed to large scale production rollouts. But there is substantial urgency around these efforts and the pace is accelerating. The demand for information about this technology is overwhelming. In some cases it is very tangible – operators have a general strategy in mind and want to test whether it will bear the fruit they think it should. In other cases, there’s a sense of “we know we probably need this SDN and NFV technology, but we’re not completely sure what it is.” So a fair amount of education and proving still needs to happen.

Q: So, given some confusion and a great deal of urgency and excitement around SDN and NFV technology, where should operators focus in order to cut through the noise?

A: Our overall belief in the SDN and NFV arena is that we’ve all seen the technology hype cycle before. It comes with risks. When technology is deployed for its own sake, business goals can get lost in the rush and the end state burns substantial capital without delivering the benefits that were projected upfront. While we are keeping up or even ahead of the industry’s fast pace in this area, we want to deliver a dose of business-focused pragmatism. Let’s make this technology work as intended and have it be a force for service innovation and revenue generation. If it’s just a massive engineering exercise, or an attempt to move numbers from one expense line to another, then it misses the point. Ultimately, this Orchestrator solution is about bringing the hard business benefits of NFV and SDN to life for operators. When it comes time to report top line growth and bottom line profitability, all of the hype goes right out the window. Operators have to make the ultimate outcome of all of this energy and investment a net positive for their businesses. With that in mind, this Orchestrator solution enables operators to focus not only realizing the cost savings associated with SDN/NFV, but with exploring new approaches to very high value services that, in an on-demand fashion, synchronize very dynamic networks with the sophisticated, high value applications that ride them.

Click here for Part 1 of this Q&A.


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