In many markets, virtualization—transforming separate hardware components into software functions—is being pushed for and seems highly desirable. In the telecom industry, a key driver for this transformation is that it promises to help operators reuse existing assets to be more flexible and agile in markets that are often very competitive. But what virtualization use cases actually make sense for telecom operators? And how can they succeed with these use cases? Here, we look briefly at three possibilities.
1. Prepare for 5G
The foundational concept of 5G is to make it possible to deliver any type of telecom service, anywhere. Virtualization makes that possible by enabling the instantiation of services and applications using software running on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) compute power (e.g. x86) rather than specialized hardware.
The flexibility virtualization introduces is an important change because existing network infrastructures are very static, involving lots of (often proprietary, expensive) hardware. To evolve and make 5G possible, networks first must become virtualized: make them software-driven so one physical network can contain multiple ‘software’ networks (aka network slices), in support of a services-based architecture.
Network slicing—splitting a physical network into multiple virtualized networks—is crucial to 5G because it allows resources to be shared in an elastic way, and for services to be spun up ‘on the fly’ with resources aligned to their specific requirements. The overarching goal of network slicing is to create a global ecosystem in which network devices and user endpoints are able to communicate together—in support of providing highly reliable, ultra low-latency, high availability services.
With network slicing included as a key principle, virtualization is likely to be applied first in the core network to address the infrastructure resource layer. Slices created must be service-based to provide a partitioned network on demand. Separating the control and user planes will allow service function chaining.
5G is not only about pushing the envelope of performance capabilities and meeting high demand, but also delivering flexible, anything as-a-service/on-demand service model. Such a model can only work if the system in use is flexible, enables fast time to market with new services, and has low total cost of ownership. In short, this is a whole new ecosystem with its own set of business requirements.
2. Reduce OpEx and CapEx
Traditionally, to prepare for future service demand in telecom networks, operators have defaulted to over-provisioning—installing much more hardware/capacity than they need at first, to ‘future proof’ their investment. But, this is costly and it often takes years for that capacity to actually be put into service. Not exactly ideal, but often the best an operator could do given the conditions they were faced with.
But this is a blunt approach, and is no longer sustainable given the complexity, scale, and rapidly evolving nature of next-generation networks and the services they deliver. Instead, virtualization provides operators the opportunity to efficiently leverage multi-purpose, flexible processing power in an elastic fashion. If the compute power is already installed, and has capacity available, addressing growing demand becomes an incremental change.
Using a software-based approach reduces costs both directly and indirectly, by delivering:
- Service agility, accelerating time-to-market for new services
- High scalability for efficient resource dimensioning and scalability on an as-needed basis
- Enhanced user experience, enabling new business opportunities
- Automated deployment that increases operational efficiency
3. Increase Profitability
Using virtualization to reduce OpEx and CapEx has the advantageous result of increasing profitability—indirectly, through lower expenditures. Given the nature of the telecom market, this is quite important; operators (especially those in established markets) are unlikely to make much headway increasing revenue through acquiring more customers. Likewise, although upselling existing customers with value-added capabilities may have some positive impact on revenue, it is unlikely to be an earth-shattering breakthrough. Running more efficient operations, then, remains key to long-term profitability. Virtualization can get operators there.
For example, virtualization not only minimizes the footprint of hardware deployment needed to support services, but also reduces time-to-market for new services (features can be created and service provisioning can be completed much faster) compared with legacy systems.
With this increase in profitability in mind, many operators are considering some of the following virtualization technologies which they expect will simplify functional deployments and reduce costs through increased agility. (Note that not all of these are mature enough to be deployed as-is, and most require some form of customization.)
- Virtualized core aggregation, which can be applied to use cases like switching components and regulatory reporting.
- Security between physical, service, and NFVI domains, which can be applied to use cases like machine-to-machine access control, firewall provisioning, and unified communication (VoIP/PBX).
- Access network virtualization for the mobile edge; the first step toward 4.5G and 5G that enables strict, KPI-sensitive mobility services to run closer to the edge.
- Service network virtualization (allowing many multi-tenant services and components to run on a single physical network), which can be applied to use cases like data center micro segmentation, on-premises vCPE functions, and big data optimization.
- Dynamic interconnects between locations (e.g. data centers and enterprise branches), which can be applied to use cases like bandwidth on-demand, SD-WAN, and dynamic VPN services.
- NFV to replace physical network functions (appliances, gateways, switches, routers), which can be applied to use cases like SD-WAN, gigabit LAN, and firewall services.
Accedian’s Role in Virtualization
The development of next-generation telecom networks may seem a bit like the Wild West right now, given the number of organizations and groups involved in standards development, open source, and other aspects of wrangling virtualization into usability. But, ultimately, these networks will be based on standards-compliant technology, and will be built using solutions from multiple vendors. End-to-end visibility into network performance, enabling real-time quality of experience (QoE) optimization, will involve virtual probes used to cope with the changes brought about by ‘softwareization’ and ‘cloudification’ of telecom.
Accedian, in our role as an industry leader for virtualized network performance assurance, is heavily focused on standardization and interoperability. We recognize the importance of communication between orchestrators and other devices, and this is reflected in the solutions we offer.
Our SkyLIGHT performance management—a software-centric solution for continuous performance monitoring of network performance—leverages Accedian’s patent portfolio to deliver highly accurate, granular, and ultra-scalable measurements and analysis.
Some of the components of the SkyLIGHT solution are:
- SkyLIGHT management, control, and actuation software (SkyLIGHT Director™, SkyLIGHT VCX™) allows for centralized control of performance monitoring sessions and SkyLIGHT modules and can be installed on non-proprietary, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.
- SkyLIGHT modules (small form factor/SFP FPGA-based units that provide optional hardware assist for up-featuring customer equipment to the latest standards, ultra-accuracy, and advanced features) managed centrally by the VCX virtual machines located in a cloud data center.
- FlowMETER and FlowBROKER™ microservice agents within the SkyLIGHT platform, which provide existing analytics tools with statistics and sub-second user traffic details needed to debug links in real-time.
Only SkyLIGHT performance monitoring offers:
- One-way metrics without external synchronization.
- A fully virtualized monitoring solution with NFV performance monitoring (NFV-PM) capabilities at full network scale.
- 5G-grade, future-proofed precision.
- Industry-leading granularity to capture short term impairments (5 sec vs. 15 min reporting).
- More than 50 measurements and KPIs to provide the widest range of perspectives to detect and isolate elusive performance impairments.
- Scalability to assure hundreds of millions of subscribers, report billions of metrics a day, deployed within weeks.