The critical role of Active Assurance in the context of SDN and NFV

By: Claudio Mazzuca

The transition from traditional networks to virtualized networks is well underway, driven by the promise of SDN and NFV. These networking tools have the power to dramatically change the way services are created and managed, but how will these changes impact the way service providers manage their customers’ Quality of Experience (QoE)? The answer lies in a fundamental shift away from traditional network monitoring to a more dynamic, software based real-time service assurance solution architecture.

Fundamentals of virtualization

Why the move to virtualization?

Traditional networks were built to address specific service needs/requirements and scaled to address the anticipated capacity.  In other words, a traditional network was purpose-built for a specific service or set of services.  Developing new services or scaling the network to handle more services than expected involved lengthy, expensive planning and engineering projects, often lasting 9 months or more, to ensure the new service could be fit into the existing network without impacting the existing services.

According to a recent report, most service providers, some more aggressively than others, are developing strategies to transition to virtualized networking.  Fueled by the success of Enterprise Data Center virtualization along with advances in Software Defined Networking (SDN), these service providers are looking to fundamentally change the way services are created and managed; to become more agile and responsive to their customers ever-changing needs while at the same time driving OPEX and CAPEX out of their bottom line.

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a concept that has been around for many years.  Its fundamental premise is the separation of the control plane from the data plane to allow for centralized, dynamic management of network resources in response to changes in the network state (i.e., load-balancing to overcome congestion in the network or bandwidth augmentation to address increased bandwidth utilization on a critical link). 

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is the evolution of data center virtualization into the service provider network. Purpose-built hardware platforms, such as routers or NIDs, are disaggregated into their basic functional elements and each functional element implemented in software as virtual network function (VNF) running in one or more virtual machines on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers.  By combining, or chaining, these VNFs in software, an entire network can be built without any purpose-built hardware at a much lower cost. And since the network is entirely software based, NFV allows the service provider to efficiently manage their network resources by deploying them only where needed or justified and new services can be added without additional capital investment.


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