Virtualize, But Verify

Prayson Pate, CTO & SVP of R&D, Overture Networks

Prayson Pate, CTO & SVP of R&D, Overture Networks

Virtualization if done well provides tremendous agility, flexibility and scalability that can lead to significant savings in development time and deployment cost. This is true for nearly any environment in the information, data or communications spaces, but particularly so for the telecom industry. Why? Because virtualization is medicine for what is ailing the telecom industry.

Virtualization in the Telecom Industry

Very simply, we mean Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) in the Telecom industry. NFV is the replacement of today’s network appliances (routers, firewalls, VoIP switches) with software implementations running on standard servers. By moving from closed appliances to software-centric services running on low-cost hardware, communications service providers (CSPs) can address today’s top issues and become more profitable.

Addressing the Problems of CSP business

Key issues facing CSPs and suggests on how virtualization can help:
The chart shows how virtualization does indeed help CSPs design new services for rapid deployment and response to changes. However, virtualization does not address the gaps related to operational considerations such as service assurance and billing. In order to move from trials to revenue generation, operational data must be captured, analyzed and tied to other systems to support service delivery, assurance and billing. In other words, virtualization is only as good as the environment’s ability to track what end users are doing and to respond correctly.

Let’s look in more detail at the questions posed in the chart.

Virtualization between Services and Physical Infrastructure

NFV, along with its powerful ally Software Defined Networks (SDN), offers the ability to hide details of run time hardware, creates portability of applications, dynamically control services and generally enable modern cloud infrastructure. While this is beneficial for application developers it can create headaches for your operations team. What they need is a way to “de-virtualize” the system for purposes of correlating the service layer to the underlying virtual and physical layers. This correlation needs to take into account changes over time (e.g. dynamic services or recovery actions) as well as over space (e.g. VM scaling and migration.)

Binding New Services into Existing IT systems

CSPs are not in the virtualization business or even the cloud business; they are in the service business. That means that any new technology such as virtualization must be tied into existing systems for purposes of service activation, service assurance and billing. Doing so requires a flexible layer of mediation to connect the new virtualized world to the old Telco world. CSPs must be able to rapidly correlate information from virtualized network functions, orchestration and network management systems to fit the existing IT infrastructure.

Consider the case of a scalable service built with virtualized components. Offering the end user such a service would have tremendous value in terms of meeting today’s demand for instant fulfillment of orders, as well as supporting fluctuating demands. However, such a service is only useful to the CSP if it can assure the service, bill for it and customers pay for it. Doing all of the above requires coordination between multiple entities:

Inventory: Resources are available to meet the increased demand or scale of the service.
Policy and billing: Customers agree to pay for a scaled-up service.
SLAs: The SLA function knows the size and shape of the changed service.

Another interesting situation is the development of the Internet of Things (IoT.) The IoT is just getting started and nobody is sure what type of communications/ data services the IoT ecosystem will need, or what/how people will pay for them.

In the past, network elements like phone switches had complicated features that produced billing records for certain parameters such as call duration and distance. With undefined capabilities like IoT, we don’t even know what to bill. Do we bill for data consumed? Peak bandwidth? Use of physical and/or logical resources? The answer is likely a combination of all of the above. Therefore, CSPs need a way to dynamically correlate and extract information to match the demands of new IoT services and virtualization is the key to making this process cost-effective.

Getting a Reliable and Actionable Intelligence

To achieve the full promise of virtualization we have identified the need to acquire, store and correlate data from multiple systems such as physical equipment, virtualization layers, virtualized functions and existing IT systems. We have also shown that correlated data must be made available in a flexible and efficient manner.

We at Overture Networks also believe that the right solution must include big data storage and analytics. Big Data schemes capture disparate data streams and analytics provides the means to correlate the data to enable extraction of actionable intelligence. By combining big data and analytics with today’s virtualization tools, CSPs can build a solid path to service innovation and greater profitability.

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