Our latest analysis identifies seven key barriers that have slowed NFV roll out across six operators (Deutsche Telekom, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom and Comcast), and the approaches being used to overcome them.
This report is one of a series analyzing the progress made by leading operators in the application of NFV and SDN, and the lessons learned so far. The two most recent reports, AT&T: Fast Pivot to the NFV Future and Telefónica’s NFV: An Empire Divided? provided insights into those companies’ successes and challenges in this regard. These reports also build on the insights from our Telco 2.0 Transformation and Enterprise Cloud and ICT Research Streams.
No other Tier One operator has committed itself publicly to ambitious virtualization targets along the lines of Telefónica or AT&T. However, this does not mean that operators are not planning, or indeed have not already embarked on, similar transformation programs, with virtualization thus far proceeding mainly on an element-by-element and service-by-service basis. The migration to increasingly software-defined networks (SDNs) and the implementation of network functions virtualization (NFV) are now an unavoidable direction of the road ahead; and no operator that seriously intends to survive in the long term is not already drawing up a roadmap.
This report examines some of the potential road blocks in the way of NFV, which account in part for the caution displayed by other big operators about embarking on major virtualization programs and broadcasting what they are doing. These questions are discussed in relation to Deutsche Telekom, NTT, Verizon, Vodafone, Swisscom, and Comcast, and how those operators have addressed some of the challenges.
Our next report will bring together high level recommendations for operators based on these and other analyses, to outline a roadmap for best practice in this particular aspect of the transformation of the telecoms industry to new business models.
What’s holding back NFV?
1. Operators have been laying the SDN foundations
One of the reasons why no other Tier One operator is emulating either Telefónica’s or AT&T’s approach is that many operators have been taking their time to elaborate and implement their overall SDN, NFV and cloud strategies. Many potential and actual approaches to the dual challenge of SDN and NFV exist, depending on the overall strategic objectives. The approach favored by some of the operators reviewed here has been to elaborate the SDN framework as a precursor to virtualizing particular network functions – although there are different paths that can be followed in working through the technological challenges; and in practice, the roadmap is never fully plotted out until the twists and turns of the journey have been charted.
The logical reason why SDN has been seen by many as a preliminary to NFV is that, put briefly, SDN offers more flexible and efficient ways to design, test, build and operate IP networks. It does this by separating out the intelligence about how the network operates, and how traffic flows, from the networking device, and placing it in a single controller with a perspective of the entire network. Taking the ‘intelligence’ out of many individual components also means that it is possible to build and buy those components for less, thus reducing some costs in the network.
Like SDN, NFV splits the control functions from the data forwarding functions. However, while SDN typically does this for the switches making up a local-area network, for example in a data center, NFV focuses specifically on wide-area network functions like routing, firewalls, load balancing, CPE, etc. Both SDN and NFV aim to leverage developments in Common Off The Shelf (COTS) hardware, such as generic server platforms utilizing multi-core CPUs, or merchant switch systems-on-chips, which are used to host and deliver those functions as Virtual Network Functions (VNFs).
Figure 1: Moving to SDN sets the scene for NFV
Source: STL Partners
SDN can consequently be viewed a prerequisite for NFV: enabling virtualized network functions (VNFs) to be deployed in the most effective and resource-efficient way as part of an overall network management framework in which infrastructure and computing resources are allocated dynamically to support fluctuating service usage and network demand.
A perhaps more fundamental – even ‘existential’ – reason why SDN can be seen as ‘coming before’ NFV is that the SDN framework defines what the communications network actually is in the new software-centric and IP-centric universe. Once network functionality is stripped out of the dedicated hardware that has traditionally run it and is pushed out into the cloud in the form of virtualized functions, then the telecoms network itself has in effect become merely a virtual network that anyone can in theory replicate with relative ease. SDN is the glue that binds all of the distributed, cloud-based functionality together and makes it operate as (if it were) a traditional telecoms network: delivering equivalent and ultimately superior levels of performance to networks running on dedicated hardware.
SDN is, then, in both senses – operational and existential – what enables operators to remain in control of the new virtualized networks. Operators have therefore been understandably cautious about embarking on NFV before their SDN frameworks are in place. And this process is being protracted still further because the industry in general has still not reached agreement on open SDN and NFV standards.
- Executive Summary
- What’s holding back NFV?
- 1. Operators have been laying the SDN foundations
- 2. Operators have started from the enterprise and the cloud
- 3. Operators are having to negotiate fundamental architectural issues as they go along
- 4. OSS / BSS evolution and integration: Swisscom and Comcast
- 5. Security
- 6. Limited-scope NFV
- 7. Skill sets and culture change
- 2015: the year the foundations of NFV were laid?
- Figure 1: Moving to SDN sets the scene for NFV
- Figure 2: The new network is built out of the cloud-based SDN
- Figure 3: Multi-vendor VNF integration process for Vodafone Italy’s VoLTE deployment
- Figure 4: Collapsing classic BSS / OSS hierarchies through SDN and NFV
- Figure 5: Re-engineering the cable network
- Figure 6: The Emerging SDN-NFV Transformation Process