In a recent survey conducted by European Communications on behalf of Netcracker, representatives from more than 50 service providers around the globe ranked the primary factors inhibiting them from deploying SDN and NFV. The results showed the top challenges slowing SDN and NFV deployment included the lack of unified, vendor-agnostic, hybrid orchestration; the lack of strong business cases; and the lack of capabilities needed to operationalize SDN/NFV. Respondents also identified complexities associated with integrating third-party VNFs, organizational issues and the lack of cohesive industry standards as major obstacles. Fortunately, though, most of these inhibitors are transitional issues that service providers can address.
While NFV is touted as being built on industry-standard hardware and software, service providers sometimes still face vendor lock-in due to vendor- or domain-specific products. As such, more than 90 percent of survey respondents said that hybrid, vendor-agnostic orchestration is very important or critical to deploying SDN and NFV and enabling end-to-end services to run over multivendor, hybrid networks comprised of physical and virtual components. The market is also calling for greater preparedness among partners to deliver market-ready, VNF-based service packages that prevent VNF vendor lock-in and enable service providers to bring new services to market quickly.
Defining strong business cases for virtualization continues to be a challenge for some service providers. This is not necessarily a surprise, given that cost reduction is not frequently the main driver behind virtualization. Instead, our study revealed that reducing time-to-market, optimizing networks and developing new services were the main drivers for the emerging technology. But these benefits can be difficult to quantify, hence making business cases based on them a bit more difficult to define. These holistic and conceptual drivers often require service providers to get investment approval from executives at the highest level, often including buy-in from the board.
Given that SDN and NFV are in their earliest stages of use, it should come as no surprise that most service providers have not yet transformed their operations to support the new technologies. Contributing to this obstacle is the availability—or lack thereof—of vendor solutions as well as the slowed adoption of technologies that enable service providers to embrace the capabilities needed to operationalize SDN/NFV. Keep in mind that moving to SDN and NFV shifts service providers’ networks from hardware-centric, semi-static connectivity platforms to software-driven, dynamic service platforms. This is a transformative event and will remain an inhibitor until service providers begin to make that shift.
Encouragingly, organizational issues were not among the top inhibitors in the survey; but respondents did note that the “lack of a governance model that fosters collaboration between network and IT as a challenge. As the industry becomes more software-oriented, network and IT organizational functions must synchronize continuously or merge together. Although this goes against how most service providers are currently organized, the merging of network and IT functions it is now widely accepted as vital.
Though standards were cited as a lesser inhibitor in our survey, standards are often identified as general inhibitors of innovation. In many cases, standards work to catch up to innovation, as is easily pointed to in the case of 5G’s gradual development. Standards bodies are working to streamline their processes, but they are often unable to keep up with the industry’s aggressive pace. This dynamic is putting pressure on service providers and their strategic partners to invest in and deliver multivendor, end-to-end solutions that can automatically adapt to standards over time.
The good news is that none of these inhibitors is a road block for virtualization; they are merely potholes that can be avoided with the proper approach. Although many of the challenges identified in our survey are seen as inhibitors today, they will likely shake out as SDN and NFV roll into large-scale production.
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