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Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) was designed to help the telecom industry accelerate innovation and launch services quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively. This is done primarily by replacing hardware-centric equipment with cloud native and microservices approaches that allow key core and edge functionality to be virtualized in telecommunications networks.
Along with increased service agility, these virtualized functions provide Communications Service Providers (CSPs) with the ability to seamlessly operate in a multi-vendor ecosystem environment and offer improved security and operational efficiencies while leveraging cloud technologies. The pressure to realize cost savings and drive revenues quickly while securing networks from an ever-expanding list of threats has been among the main forces driving the adoption of NFV.
As service providers fight to maintain their dominance in the communications value chain, they must be more responsive to customer demands. This means being more efficient and quickly turning services up or down, optimizing traffic on their networks and introducing new, innovative services. NFV promises to help service providers bring about all of these benefits and more. The alternative is to risk losing customers to more agile competitors.
The transformation from hardware-based equipment to software is a journey that started many years ago by moving switching, security, and session management software sets into "software loads" that work brilliantly on Intel-based architecture, or servers of the service providers' choice.
While the transformation from "hardwired" and "big iron" networks to cloud-based, software-centric virtualized networks is challenging, some of the largest service providers in the world are already reaping the benefits of NFV.
These benefits include networks being less expensive to operate, easier to maintain and providing more agility to build and deploy new services. The NFV Revolution allows service providers to “upgrade the grid" and "replace the plumbing" in their networks while also providing IP services, IP session management, network security, network interconnection and interoperability.
For example, earlier this year du, a UAE-based service provider deployed GENBAND’s NFV-based Session Border Controller to enable industry leading interconnect capabilities and allow seamless connectivity between disparate communications networks, a first of its kind deployment in the Middle East.
So where does the NFV Revolution stand now? Here are a few key trends that are currently driving this force:
1. With provisioning of services (such as with vCPE) possible within seconds rather than hours, months, weeks, or even days, services can be launched immediately with connectivity "embedded”. This is a significant sea-change for our industry because connectivity can now be bundled with applications, and no longer considered a separate service.
2. Because NFV networks are all software driven, the ability to see into these networks, understand their performance, and isolate issues is vastly improved. Network analytics may one day be as easy and convenient as Google analytics for the web!
3. Automation of certain network functions can be programmed, including adding Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the backend to "observe the network" based on policy, requiring fewer humans to manage "Network Operating Centers" which are giving way to Network Management Services. This is another great new revenue opportunity for CSPs as they approach their enterprise customers with new offerings (replacing "maintenance" and other revenue sources that are quickly evaporating).
4. Far above and beyond operational improvements for the CSPs, the NFV Revolution will open up the floodgates for creativity and "digital agility" and the development of new services for consumers and enterprises, including in the exploding world of the Internet of Things (IoT).
5. Many service providers that we speak to are still figuring out how they want to approach this NFV Revolution. While some are simply looking to virtualize certain functions to leverage general purpose platforms in data centers, others are looking to fully embrace NFV to gain all of the benefits mentioned above and more. It is important that service providers know what their end objectives are and select the right partners to help get them there.
The NFV Revolution means network design in the future may be as easy as spinning up Virtual Machines and launching new services in days or even hours – no longer taking us months or years. It is certainly an exciting time to be in this industry.