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Virtualisation is only the first step for a successful NFV network

Robin KentIssue:Europe I 2016
Article no.:9
Topic:Virtualisation is only the first step for a successful NFV network
Author:Robin Kent
Title:Director of European Operations
Organisation:Adax
PDF size:393KB

About author

Robin Kent is Director of European Operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, wide area network, and office automation markets. He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s successful transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.

Article abstract

Operators must now assess how they approach virtualisation. It’s an attractive prospect for smaller operators, but hardware must be included to support virtualised software. There isn’t a one size fits all solution with NFV – it’s about getting it right for the specific application or individual network function. Operators must know the best way to deploy a particular function to give the end-user the best experience. The prospect of virtualising everything may be a draw if operators are suffering from concurrent network issues, but it is essential for operators to consider the security and packet inspection implications of not using hardware to assist the virtualisation process.  

Full Article

Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) has continued to grow and prove popular across many industries in today’s connected world. Telecommunications is one such industry that is reaping the benefits and promises it offers. Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research, states, “NFV technologies are synergistic, and offer improved programmability, faster service enablement and lower CAPEX/OPEX for CSPs” . With industry views such as Doyle’s, the attraction for operators is clear to see. According to a whitepaper from Linux Foundation, the main goal of NFV is to increase service agility while enabling better asset utilization’ . However, this goal often gets lost in the search for 'software only’, NFV/SDN solution without really understanding the needs of individual networks and applications. The question operators need to ask themselves when it comes to virtualisation is 'does the solution fit the problem’?
A common misconception is that all is virtualised in a 'virtualised network’ and that hardware is not needed to support the applications that are running. However, contrary to this view, in order to prove successful, NFV can only occur when there is architecture in place for both hardware and software. Considering software in isolation doesn't work. Individual networks will vary according to local demands and operator preferences, and an appreciation of the roles of both hardware and software is essential for the NFV architecture. This is especially true when considering applications that require a simplified hardware assist solution. Hardware is also vitally important when it comes to virtualised mobile networks as there are potentially severe security pitfalls that operators can fall into if they don’t have the necessary hardware in place. Telecom publication Virtualization World makes an acute observation of virtualisation, identifying it as: “…the process of combining hardware and software network resources and network functionality into a single, software-based administrative entity, a virtual network.” This certainly rings true in the telecoms industry, and operators should certainly consider when searching for the much-hailed 'software’ only solution.
The performance demands of certain applications and network functions such as security gateway, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and the 4G/LTE core network require hardware acceleration on the data plane because of the high data throughput of these applications which need to be analysed thoroughly. Separating the control and data planes improves the control of the network and paves the way for a more effective and reliable NFV implementation. But it's not enough to stop there.
This separation will centralise the control plane so that third party applications can run autonomously which turns the control plane into a Virtual Network Function (VNF), leading to a more flexible and dynamic network. Yes, agility and flexibility are improved but also the OPEX cost to the operator is reduced by simplifying the control and programming of the network.
The best practice for operators should be to move the control plane to a virtual machine, offering a simplified solution for network management whilst adding to the quality and value of the overall solution with hardware acceleration for the data plane. Operators need to ensure they have virtualisation and distribution management system resources in place. The role of a Virtual Network Function Manager (VNFM) is a necessity to establish close communications between the NFV manager, and therefore the software and hardware in the field.
Operators should not focus their resources on searching for a virtualised network solution that is on generic COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) hardware, without understanding the actual network or user requirements. In fact, hardware and software can and should work in tandem but it’s essential to recognise how and where that hardware runs in the network. For now, applications that require hardware assisted virtualisation require dedicated and specialised COTS hardware. It’s also important to make sure the control and data planes are decoupled for NFV. Separating the control and data planes simplifies network control and operators need to have the hardware solution in place to accelerate and deliver cost-effective, reliable application performance.
With a control plane that’s both centralised and virtualised, the next question is how to ensure the applications can meet the demands of performance, reliability, flexibility and scalability when faced with high throughput. As a result, the performance demands of certain applications, network functions and nodes such as a Security Gateway, DPI and the 4G LTE core network points towards the need for hardware acceleration at the data plane.
Operators must now assess how they approach virtualisation. It’s an attractive prospect for smaller operators, but hardware must be included to support virtualised software. There isn’t a one size fits all solution with NFV – it’s about getting it right for the specific application or individual network function. Operators must know the best way to deploy a particular function to give the end-user the best experience. The prospect of virtualising everything may be a draw if operators are suffering from concurrent network issues, but it is essential for operators to consider the security and packet inspection implications of not using hardware to assist the virtualisation process.

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