Managing and Assuring Hybrid Networks: Navigating the Path to a Virtual World

Operators need to visualize both sides of the hybrid network in a way that allows their single operations team to view it in a single pane.

Let’s explore a potential real-world example of how a hybrid network model can positively impact customers. A streaming company wants to broadcast a live event and doesn’t want its bandwidth limitations to be affected by the legacy network and processes that it runs on. With a virtual network, this company can utilize automation to fluctuate the bandwidth as needed throughout the live event, with automated billing. If they were to rely on manual efforts, they would have to purchase the highest level of bandwidth up-front to ensure service was not interrupted, because changing bandwidth levels on a legacy network is a manual, less than instant, process. The fluctuated bandwidth allows the customer to pay only for the bandwidth they actually use, instead of the anticipated bandwidth usage, providing massive cost savings.

Challenges of the Hybrid SDN/NFV Model

There are a number of reasons why a jump from legacy networks to virtual ones cannot happen overnight. In fact, it will likely take several “iterations” of hybrid network solutions that feature varying splits between legacy and virtual network assets before full-fledged virtual networks are operating with little to no legacy network hardware and processes. In addition to this, network operators are more comfortable than ever with SDN and NFV, but are still “testing the waters” with these technologies, meaning that a full dive into networking without some sort of legacy component would be a big gamble to make at this time.

One of the main challenges that operators face is finding the right balance between legacy and virtual to make up their hybrid network solutions in a way that does not negatively impact the day-to-day experience of their customer base, but improves the day-to-day experience for network end users. At this point in time, providing closed-loop automation on SDN and NFV is possible, but no one has the ability to implement that type of efficiency within a legacy network. So legacy networks have to be manually driven, while virtual networks are driven by automation, making hybrid networks an imperfect solution, but the best possible option at the current moment.

For simplicity’s sake, operators need to visualize both sides of the hybrid network in a way that allows their single operations team to view it in a single pane. It isn’t cost effective to have two different operations teams (one for virtual and one for legacy), so it’s critical to have a simple, holistic way of viewing the performance of the entire hybrid network.

Global Adoption of the Hybrid Model

The benefits of SDN and NFV are clear to telecom operators, evidenced by their relatively unified leap to virtualization, at least among the Tier 1 crowd. In fact, it’s less of a leap and more of a tentative stroll across the bridge to digital; most Tier 1 service providers are at least exploring the possibilities, with viable business cases for the shift in hand. We anticipate that the forerunners will fully transition within the next three to five years, maintaining hybrid models in the meantime, and it’s safe to say that many operators will stick to hybrid for at least the next five years. This is good news for mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which can move forward with SDN and NFV initiatives since the carrier infrastructure they rely on is already being upgraded.

As for Tiers 2 and 3, though, the situation gets trickier. Tier 2 operators are at somewhat of a standstill when it comes to SDN and NFV. For the most part, they’re determining if the return is worth the very substantial upfront investment, but they – like nearly every operator – appreciate the growing importance of virtualization, not only in boosting network reliability and efficiency while lowering operational costs, as outlined above, but in simply keeping up with the competition. Tier 3 providers, by and large, simply do not have the financial resources to invest in the transition at this time. If they could reallocate or raise the funds for this effort, it would go a long way toward setting them apart from the pack.   

The Way Forward

Operators of any size can best address the challenges hybrid models present by visualizing all aspects of their networks — legacy and virtual — in one platform and maintaining guaranteed service quality throughout the transition. During a potentially tumultuous time for a service provider’s customers, these two actions are vital to ensuring that client networks aren’t negatively affected. 

Together, network visualization and service assurance are the key to rapidly deploying a host of virtual network function (VNF) based services, such as SD-WAN and vCPE. With telecom networks demanding more agility and flexibility by the minute, investing in virtualization and the best tools to manage it is quickly becoming less of a choice for operators — and more of a necessity.


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