The Mobile Network Magazine, February 2017
In virtual networks, there is the same need to obtain deep network and customer insights as there is in physical networks.
Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) has moved beyond theory and is now being deployed in earnest by every major operator globally. Some of these initiatives reside within dedicated transformation projects, such as Vodafone’s OCEAN programme, AT&T’s Domain2.0, eCOMP initiative and Telefonica’s UNICA project. Other operators are already deploying enterprise and consumer services over virtualised elements, including NTT DoCoMo, SK Telekom, Verizon, Deutsche Telekom and Orange.
Solution vendors and software developers are also well advanced in delivering Virtual Network Functions (VNF) and NFV infrastructure (VNFi). Typically, we expect that the first step towards fully virtualised networks will be the deployment of virtual EPC and IMS elements, serving use cases such as vCPE, enterprise VPNs and VoLTE. Virtualised Radio Access Network (RAN) will take a little longer to be deployed in the network, and vendors and operators are still working on defining exactly where in the RAN technology stack the physical-virtual split is best achieved.
All this is evidence that the migration efforts being undertaken by the industry, across the vendor and operator community, is moving forward at pace. Where there is still much work to do is in the definition of exactly how NFV elements and VNFs will be operated and managed. Development has moved to exploring how VNFs from different vendors can be on-boarded onto the network, to ensuring inter-vendor interoperability, and to defining how VNFs can operate in a truly cloud-native manner. Over the past year this has led to the adoption of Open Source development of the software that will be used to orchestrate and manage NFV elements. As if to illustrate the pace of progress, in early 2017 ETSI held an NFV interoperability Plugtest in Spain, with 29 remote labs connected to verify interconnection between 20 VNFs, 10 management and orchestration solutions and 10 NFV platforms.
The impact this development has had within operators has been profound. Across their technical landscape and their operating infrastructure, operators are making it clear that any technical solution from this point onward must be designed in the light of a requirement to work within a virtualised environment.
That said, the process of transitioning from physical to virtual infrastructure will necessarily be gradual, given that a ‘rip and replace’ strategy is not a viable option for most CSPs. It is clear therefore that, although the degree of virtualisation will increase over time, most networks will be hybrids, in that they will contain both physical and virtual elements. This is a situation that will last for at least another ten years, according to analysts.
Monitoring emerging hybrid networks
One key question surrounding NFV adoption is how operators will monitor, manage and provide service assurance within networks that are hybrids of legacy dedicated physical elements and virtualised ones.
Although operator requirements are for vendors/suppliers to align with virtualisation programmes, they must also ensure the operational fidelity of legacy elements. Importantly the operational performance monitoring, service quality monitoring and the customer experience output that they promise during this migration period remains critical. Operators must be able to provide exceptional customer experience, derive KPI analytics no matter the architecture that is deployed, and be able to consolidate a customer view across different network and service domains, including between legacy and NFV elements.
This creates a number of possibilities in terms of managing this environment. There could be physical components monitored by classical physical equipment or by virtualised monitoring solutions, which can be deployed directly into the operator’s data centre or cloud. At the same time, Virtual components could be connected in some way to physical monitoring elements and, of course, there could also be fully virtualised components monitored with fully virtualised network probes. Whatever the environment, what used to be physical interfaces will in NFV become virtual interfaces, but the interfaces themselves are still the same as specified by 3GPP and other Standards Development Organisations. That means that the monitoring capability across those interfaces needs to remain the same.
Polystar sees that this creates another key consideration for those working to advance NFV – that it is vital that vendors and operators collaborate to define how they will monitor and manage customer experience as they enter uncharted territory. At the moment, operators are trialling and testing how this can best be done, with the support of Polystar’s experience in network probe and analytics platforms.
There is still no clear or agreed view on how monitoring and assurance will be defined within virtualised and hybrid physical-virtual networks, but what we do know is that monitoring of NFV and hybrid networks will be vital as there will always be a fundamental need to optimise and personalise the user experience based on a refined and granular view of network and subscriber data across all domains and infrastructure.
Polystar’s knowledge base, expertise and field experience makes us the ideal partner for operators to explore this new paradigm. Polystar is working closely with operators and technology partners now in order to gain the experience and knowledge required to take on the challenge of providing vendor-independent monitoring capability in emerging hybrid networks. It’s a key challenge for the future evolution of networks. Why not join us in meeting this challenge?
Join us in this work, talk to us at Mobile World Congress, Hall 6, Stand 6G31
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