April 16, 2015

From Trial to Turn Up: Making NFV and SDN Operational

So far most examples of network virtualization have been in labs or as proof of concepts. As we enter the operations phase of virtualization, real-time automation, unified orchestration and dynamic design orchestration will become critical strategies.

Experience shows that SDN can exist without NFV, but it’s very difficult to take full advantage of NFV without SDN. Virtualization of network functions is being validated every day in labs and proof of concepts around the world, and while it’s possible to create and configure virtual network functions, it’s not yet possible to include those virtual elements in service configurations, automatically provision those services and then bill and support customers as they use those services. That’s operationalization and that’s where things get tricky, especially as we enter the operations phase of network virtualization (see Figure1). 

SDN is widely viewed as the best way to configure, control and manage NFV and NFV-based services, yet service providers put themselves at risk if SDN is implemented as a silo solution to manage only virtual elements. SDN can and should be the basis for improving time-to-market for new products, automating difficult or time-consuming processes and generating revenue across the business.

There are three critical strategies that enable the transition of NFV and SDN from trial to operations – real-time automation, unified orchestration and dynamic design optimization – and all exploit SDN across the network and unify operating processes across systems while optimizing the utilization and performance of both physical and virtual assets.

Automating the Complexity
The need for automation is obvious, but the implementation of system-wide intelligence is more complicated. Big data and analytics are enabling technologies, but real-time automation requires that systems are able to derive a level of understanding from the available data and use that understanding to make policy decisions, trigger actions across elements and systems and monitor performance. Every manual interaction with a system that can be eliminated should be eliminated provided that the system is flexible enough to dynamically adjust to changing variables and use cases.

Unified Orchestration
Orchestration implies a single abstraction layer that is aware of and able to modify actions from the customer device and application to the core of the network. But too often, orchestration is applied to an individual service or network silos when a unified solution would make more sense.

With unified orchestration, end-to-end core processes should be consistently defined, managed and executed across every work group, every system and every data source. Unified orchestration harnesses the functionality in existing systems and silos by abstracting the modeling and execution of cohesive end-to-end processes that are monitored from start to finish.

Dynamic Design Orchestration
The value of virtualization is rapid instantiation of new elements based on time, location, security, latency, performance and demand. Orchestration must be flexible enough to dynamically allocate and optimize the use of physical and virtual elements without adversely affecting network and service performance.

An automated process can rapidly instantiate functions and services, however at the other end of that connection (typically the data center), those virtual elements must be recognized and added to product, service and asset catalogs and included in the execution of policy, assurance and billing functions. Determining the proper placement of virtual elements is critical to preserving network performance. Capturing and acknowledging the existence of those elements is what makes them operational.

SDN promises simplified management and orchestration of disparate virtual elements. But unless and until that orchestration is centrally applied across all operations – not just NFV – service providers will be required to continue navigating numerous individual operational silos, create complex integrations and remain blind to the true customer experience.

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