Network Function Virtualization and Telecom Industry

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frfref3rwOriginally, the concept of Network Function Virtualization (NFV) emerged out of telecom providers’ need to accelerate the deployment of new network services. Since then, NFV as a concept and technology has not looked back as it found both popularity and acceptance in virtualization of  Network functions and more so in the area of telecom. The telecom sector is hardware dependent – it requires proprietary hardware, space, and not to mention good amount of efforts to expand.

There is a lot that is required to ensure the expansion of a telecom company – from skills to design, integrate, and operate hardware applications to operational expenditures to technical expertise. In the current scenario, all of these lead to higher costs and bigger delays in implementation and this is where NFV plays a vital role. Keeping in mind all these requirements service providers came together to form the  European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), which is the lead body that manages the NFV initiatives and programs.

What does NFV bring in for the Telecom Industry?

There is no doubt of what NFV is doing and in future can do for the telecom industry, let’s observe a few advantages NFV brings in for the industry:

Reducing CAPEX and OPEX

Telecom companies are burdened with huge Capital Expenditure and Operational Expenditure as they hope to expand businesses. NFV technology cuts these expenses down heavily as it facilitates the deployment of new network services in a faster time frame and with greater agility. Telecom companies have a breather in the form of cost savings and faster time-to-market courtesy, NFV. NFV helps evolve standard IT network systems and consolidates network equipment types onto storage, switches, and high volume servers which can be easily accommodated in Data Centers and even on end-user premises.

Benefits of using NFV for telecom operators

NFV is an emerging trend within the telecom industry and telecom companies have begun to see the benefits of embracing this technology. While it brings about significant changes that are time and cost bound, it also brings about many benefits to the operators. Let’s observe some of the benefits of this technology in the telecom space:

  • NFV enables scalability and automation and increases the flexibility of network services
  • It decreases the time-to-market by minimizing the usual network operator cycle
  • Speed of deployment is high and due to the flexibility factor services can easily be scaled up or down
  • It ultimately reduces the equipment and other operational costs, which in turn helps operators in terms of profitability

Challenges of Implementing and using NFV

So far, we have seen the popularity and benefits of going with NFV. But all said and done, while NFV technology is a major boost to telecom operators, migration to and implementation of NFV is not as easy as it sounds. There are typical challenges that come with NFV such as –its dynamic Installation and Migration and more importantly, the guarantee of network performance once it is set up.  Let’s take a look at some of these challenges:

Compatibility and Interoperability

A key challenge for going with NFV is to design some standard interfaces not only between a variety of virtual appliances but also between virtualized implementation and legacy devices and equipment.  NFV should help interoperability between servers, hypervisors, and virtual appliances from different vendors as network operators will be faced with such a situation. NFV also needs to promote openness and ensure a seamless integration between both physical and virtual appliances.

Migration to NFV from legacy systems

Implementation of NFV must be in accordance with the operator’s current network or legacy system; both NFV and the legacy system need to co-exist. NFV must be compatible with all the existing network systems and with the entire IT orchestration.

A successful migration happens if NFV can work in a hybrid network, one that contains physical network appliances and virtual network appliances. In order to achieve this, Virtual appliances must, therefore, support Northbound interfaces and at the same time work with the physical appliances.

Latency and Throughput concerns

Implementing NFV requires discarding of proprietary hardware and use of industry-standard hardware along with virtual appliances and this could result in the decrease of performance of the network system. There is a performance trade-off and the challenge here is to keep the decrease in performance as low as possible. This can be done by using modern software and the right hypervisors so the latency and throughput times are minimized. Another key thing is to understand and be aware of the existing performance of the underlying hardware so as to gauge the overall performance when the virtual appliances are synced.

Security and Resilience

While NFV brings in a great number of advantages, it also brings with it some security concerns and network operators need to be well aware of such concerns. First, operators should ensure that the security features of the current network system are not adversely affected by migration to NFV and then, they should ensure that the security concerns that NFV brings are addressed. NFV promises to bring greater efficiency and resilience to network systems but security issues should be addressed and dealt with promptly. Overall, both the virtual and physical appliances need to be as secure as possible for the operators to gain the best of implementing NFV.

All said and done, NFV is very much essential for the growth and betterment of the telecom industry. Network providers are looking to find ways and means to ensure expansion in a cost and time-efficient manner and NFV comes to the rescue by ensuring providers achieve their objective in a more efficient manner. The future for NFV looks good and so does the future for telecom industry with network function virtualization technology backing it up.

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