In the modern Telecom industry, driven by the fast changing demands that a connected society makes of it, a huge number of new applications are emerging such as IPX, eHealth, Smart Cities and the Internet of Things. Each of these emergent applications requires new customisations of the ecosystem to manage traffic through a wide variety of service providers.
This is the core challenge faced by todays infrastructure, but we must also not overlook the fact that to serve this larger ecosystem requires an enormous change to OSS infrastructure and the way networks are being managed. Service providers are placed in the awkward space between the end users and the emergent technologies but it is the fact that these technologies and their business models are often emerging on a month to month basis that presents the greatest challenge.
If we consider all the IT assets ISP's and Telcos have at their Points of Presence it represents a significant and very much underused resource. The holy grail for many of these organisation is to be able to unlock all of this storage and computing capacity, and turn it into a virtualized resources. This strategy opens up some intriguing possibilities such as bringing remote resource to bear during times of heavy compute load at a specific locale from areas where capacity is less constrained. In infrastructure terms, this cloud-oriented world of adding new network capacity whenever and wherever it is needed is a matter of merely sliding more cards into racks or deploying new software which greatly lowers the cost of scaling the network hardware by commoditising the components used to build up a service providers infrastructure.
Agility of services is the key to this new world order where services can be created orders of magnitude more quickly than was traditionally the case. In this new model the division between content providers and service providers becomes blurred. The flexibility to manage this dynamism is the key to the industry being able to meet the demands that the connected society will increasingly place on it and it will be those players who are able to manage this balancing act most effectively that will come out on top.
This is where NFV comes in. The advent of Network Function Virtualization, or NFV, has strong parallels to those developments in the computing world that gave us the cloud, big data and other commodity computing advances. Using capacity where and when it is required with a lot less visibility into the physical location of the network than is needed currently presents a whole new set of unique challenges. As computing hardware has developed and become more capable, a greater level of software complexity has taken place by its side.
The management of NFV will be critical to its operation, and the way that end user functionality is moving to the cloud today represents a sneak preview of this. We’re seeing a preview of that as computing scales to the cloud. A lot of careful design consideration will be required and service providers need to begin adapting their infrastructure today to accommodate this future virtualization.
Closely related and indeed an enabler to the trend of NFV is the Software-Defined Network, or SDN. The SDN, or Software Defined Networking can provide improved network efficiency and better cost savings, allowing the network to follow-the-sun, turning down servers or network hardware when the load lightens, or even turning them off at night. In a wireless environment, for example, if you could turn off all the excess network capability not in use from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., you will see a significant decrease in the cost of electricity and cooling.
The continued integration of technologies such as Openflow into the latest and greatest network management implementations will further enable this trend as we increasingly see these OSS and BSS systems seek to pre-empt their traditional reactive mechanisms by looking farther up the business model in order to steal vital time with which to maximise the effectiveness of their influence and ultimately maximise the value add of their managed virtualised domains.