The move to virtualized and software-defined networks is not a big bang process. Most operators will transition their infrastructure one element at a time, and for at least a decade will have physical and virtual systems working alongside each other. Allowing both types of platform to exchange information and to be accessible to shared applications will be as much of a challenge as supporting interoperability between different vendors’ virtual systems (see separate item).
Last year, Nik Willetts, chief digital officer at the TMForum, threw a spotlight on the issue when he argued that the discussion of NFV has been mistakenly focused just on transitioning from physical to virtual, not on the “colossal challenges of managing a virtualized network alongside physical systems”.
Now Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) is rising to the challenge with its HP Service Director, an OSS (operations support system) bridge which is designed to provide unified management for physical and virtual worlds. This enables virtualized network elements to be introduced where this will have an immediate impact on efficiency, or enable a new service, without having to replace every component at once.
“There is no such thing as a greenfield NFV implementation,” said David Sliter, general manager of HPE Communications & Media Solutions, in a statement. “Our approach to OSS provides a more dynamic service model, enabling CSPs to bridge existing physical and new environments and dramatically improve their overall service agility.”
The software is part of HPE’s NFV Director platform and is built on that offering’s MANO (management and orchestration) software, which automates and shares management information and connects to a variety of OSS. The new product will be available preconfigured for a range of use cases, starting with virtual CPE.
Such developments will feed into broader standards, including those being drawn up by the TMForum. At the end of 2014, the Forum announced a suite of 20 best practices and proposed standards for managing NFV systems and services, with input from major vendors as well as several operators (AT&T, Sprint, NTT, Orange, Turkcell) and many enterprises.
These stakeholders have been cooperating under the auspices of the Forum’s Zoom (Zero-touch orchestration, operations and management) project, which aims to create a common framework for end-to-end orchestration and management of virtualized services, in order to support operators’ moves to deliver those services in an agile, flexible way by calling up (and bringing down) virtual machines on-demand.
This also has significant focus on integrating physical systems too. Its three core activities are:
- the DevOps Transformation Framework – a process to move from traditional to agile systems and network operations
- the Blueprint for End-to-End Management, which defines the essential requirements for management of physical and virtualized services, across multiple provider environments, and identifies best practices
- the NFV Operations and Procurement Readiness Guide, which identifies the technical, business, organizational and cultural changes which are needed to source agile services in a hybrid physical/virtual environment. This guide aims to help service providers reduce cost as well as support service agility.
Zoom recognizes that management and orchestration of virtual machines will become highly complex as they become more numerous and dynamic. Operators envisage being able to implement network functions, which currently run on dedicated appliances, as virtual machine software on off-the-shelf hardware. Many instances of a VM can be called up (and shut down) as required by user traffic, concentrating resources where they are needed and laying the foundation for on-demand services and capacity.
However, current OSS/BSS systems are ill-suited to this new world of dynamic allocation. They were developed for an era when connections were made singly and remained in place for a long time.
“While NFV is a key piece of the agility puzzle for service providers, you can’t look at it in isolation,” said Willetts. “NFV creates the opportunity to revolutionize how we create, deliver and manage services, but, in order to succeed, they will need to overhaul their operations and business support systems, as well as how they think about operations. Zoom brings together many of the industry’s leading innovators to create best practices and frameworks to guide this transformation, complementing the work of standards bodies such as ETSI.”
Many carriers and vendors remain cautious about the pace with which NFV can be effectively migrated from small trials to large-scale commercial networks.
At a conference a year ago, Massimo Fatato, worldwide OSS domain business lead at HPE, said: “NFV is now not a matter of if but when, but we have to be pragmatic. We cannot afford a ‘big bang’.” The change will require new skills, greater convergence of IT and network personnel, and a management approach that “runs at the same speed as the agility, elasticity and flexibility” promised by virtualization.
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