The promise of Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) was to lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for the network and to improve service agility (time-to-market). However, like all new technologies, the hype of expectations has subsided over time, and disillusionment has set-in for network Service Providers with false starts on NFV investments.
NFV hype cycle
Fortunately, with experience comes ‘enlightenment’, and given that NFV has been deployed in live networks for a variety of functions and at various scales for years now, SPs are now able to ascertain the best practice approach and create true business value paired with ‘enhanced productivity’.
Looking forward, NFV platforms will be essential as they serve as the foundation for upcoming architectural shifts; to 5G core, edge computing (MEC) and cloud-native functions.
Best Practice for NFV Platforms
There are various approaches to building an NFV environment, from single-vendor vertical stack to a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach building a platform from various vendor and open-source software.
NFV platform stack approaches
Over time, Service Providers have discovered that the Vertical approach may not be as capital-efficient, due to its fixed configuration leaving stranded capacity assets. On the other hand, the DIY approach promises horizontal scaling but the complexities of integration and operations creates prohibitive additional costs, a struggle only the largest service providers are equipped to navigate.
Considering both options, the most efficient approach appears to be a combination of both, packaging the platform in modules for life-cycle management, but remaining open to supporting various virtual network functions (VNFs) to support horizontal scaling. This creates a platform that is Open and Modular with the right balance of multi-function scaling, with carrier-grade operational packaging and a single point of ownership.
Requirements of an Open Modular NFV Platform
An NFV platform must create business value; optimized to lower network TCO and increase service agility.
An open modular NFV platform achieves this with:
- A scalable architecture for large core to small edge locations, with common orchestration
- Network DC SDN that supports bare-metal, VM and container functions
- End to end instrumentation for carrier grade operations
- Modular life-cycle management for up-grades
- The ability to support a wide range of multi-tenanted VNFs with an eco-system of pre-validated VNFs and a replicable process for new VNF on-boarding
Benefits of an Open Modular NFV Platform
Based on keen observations and conversations with customers, the benefits of this approach have been proven. Personally, I have witnessed service agility (time-to-market) improvements of more than 10x, with new services pushed to launch in a matter of days instead of the several months the process used to require.
Replacing a separate vertical NFV stack deployment with a single open modular platform has shown TCO improvement of more than 30%, attributed to operations, power and rack space reductions.
These results are encouraging, with the tangible business benefits indicating that we have attained enlightenment on how NFV platforms should be built for the Service Providers of the future.