Trends in Virtualization

By: Nancee Ruzicka

Making Virtualization Operational

In the coming year, there will be hard questions asked of those responsible for defining and evaluating strategies for the wider rollout of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and its complex cousin Software Defined Networking (SDN). Any business case for widespread implementation of virtualization must address business and operational challenges as well as risks to existing customers, infrastructure, and revenues. The savings arguments derived from data center implementations don’t begin to capture the challenges faced by network operators contemplating virtualization in the public network.

Fortunately, most operators recognize that and numerous surveys indicate that the benefit they most seek is accelerated time-to-market for new services. Bringing new connected services to market faster affects the entire business, not just the network infrastructure. And in order to move NFV and SDN from proof-of-concept to the public network, we need to prioritize operations. Operating the complex public networks serving billions of customers worldwide takes planning, sophisticated OSS/BSS (Operational and Business Support Systems), integration, and standards. And introducing layers of virtualization that multiply complexity by an order of magnitude requires modernization of those tried and true elements without sacrificing what has delivered more than a century of success.

Going forward, every virtualization strategy, be it data center, network, or services, will start and end with data. Data will tell us what customers want, capture their orders, and rapidly activate the proper combination of software and hardware to deliver the right services. Data will tell us what customers are doing, how much it costs, whether it’s safe, and what they will want next. Data will tell service providers how they are doing, how resources from the core of the network to the call center to the underlying OSS/BSS are performing, and enable dynamic adjustment to meet changing demands for capacity and services.

Making virtualization operational will take a fresh perspective from the top-down process definitions to the bottoms-up systems integration. NFV isn’t a new silo with an independent network overlay and an isolated stack of OSS/BSS. SDN isn’t effective if the elements defined in software aren’t integrated with the existing hardware elements. Standards will become critical to ensure that data can be stored, shared, and managed by and between service providers, businesses, applications, and customers across the entirety of their business.

All this will take time; but understanding that a successful virtualization strategy requires an operational focus is a good start and an important trend as we move from proof-of-concept to making virtualization operational in the dynamic, always-on environment of the public network.

Back to basics

As an industry, we’re much more comfortable digesting network details; but a competitive business plan that includes virtualization is much broader and needs to address the specific tactical network and operations configurations that are currently in place to enable the business to generate revenue and reduce costs as virtualization is introduced. Despite all the press to the contrary, network operators aren’t forever destined to become a regulated utility, but avoiding "bitpipedom" requires the intentional decision to be a retailer and that adjustment, alone, is taking longer than expected.

To turn the aircraft carrier that is present-day service provider operations requires strong, strict, and relentless leadership. Whatever divisions exist between network and IT must be extinguished and those that don’t come along get left behind. Realizing the kind of significant change that virtualization has the potential to create requires strong and stable leadership, organizational commitment, and a clear strategy.

In the business triumvirate of People, Process & Technology; there’s a reason that technology is last. Relatively speaking - it’s easy.


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