Highlights of Light Reading's NFV and the Data Center Conference-Part 1.


The telco data center¹(DC) is likely to be the first place network operators deploy Network Virtualization/Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).  That was the opening statement at the Light Reading conference on NFV and the Data Center, held Sept 16, 2014 in Santa Clara, CA.  A network virtualized data center was defined by the conference host as a “cloudified” DC which integrates virtualized telecom network functions utilizing Virtual Network Functions (VNF) or Distributed VNFs.

Note 1. Larger network operators (e.g. AT&T, Verizon) already operate “telco DCs” for web hosting, storage, cloud computing, managed services, and back end network management/OSS/BSS. It will be easier for them (compared to those operators with no DCs that only have Central Offices/PoPs) to implement a NFV based telco DC. See Heavy Reading Survey results below for more details on this topic.

Concepts and reference architectures from the ETSI NFV specifications group were predicted to alter the data center from a silo’d IT-centric model (separate compute /storage/ networking equipment) to a harmonized network and IT domain model, in which virtualized telecom functions, e.g. policy control and application orchestration, are added to the growing list of computing demands on servers. According to Light Reading, NFV will drive an entirely new set of storage, automation, management, and performance requirements, which are only now starting to be defined.

[One must assume that these VNF’s will be implemented as software in the DC compute servers, perhaps with some hardware assist functionality. Realizing that vision will eliminate a lot of network equipment (hardware) in a telco’s DC and provide much more software control of network functions and services.]

Key industry trends discussed at this excellent 1 day conference included:

  • The need for service providers to shorten their service delivery cycles and adopt agile approaches to delivering new services.
  • The key role that automation of network processes will play in helping operators deliver more user control and network programmability.
  • Taming network complexity remains a significant challenge.
  • Services in the era of virtualization must still maintain security and reliability for which telecom has been known.

Key findings from Heavy Reading’s January 2014, multi-client study are presented. Next, we summarize network operator keynotes from Century Link. Part 2. will review the Orange, and NTT Communications keynotes as well as our summary and conclusions.

Results of Heavy Reading’s Multi-Client Study on NFV for Telcos:

1.  Implementation of NFV and/or SDN:

  • 38% of telco respondents plan to migrate to NFV and SDN simultaneously.
  • 23% will implement NFV first and then move to SDN.
  • 15% will implement SDN first and then move to NFV.
  • 3% will do SDN, but not NFV.
  • 1% will do NFV, but not SDN.
  • 20% (surprisingly large number) have no plans for either NFV or SDN

2.  Functions and Capabilities Ranked Critical:

  • 51% Service agility and flexibility resulting in the introduction of new services and faster time to market them as well as changing existing services.
  • 41% Software realized OPEX reduction (e.g. licensing, training, support).
  • 39% Software version updates, network scalability and elasticity.
  • 35% CAPEX reduction.
  • 31% Hardware related OPEX reduction (e.g. spares, training, installation, maintenance).

3.   Why Build a Telco DC?

  • Standardized infrastructure for provisioning and maintenance of all services offered.
  • Support cloud based delivery of services with better resource allocation.
  • Take advantage of new platforms and tools that will support automation of new services.
  • Provide service agility which is more important than CAPEX reduction.
  • Enable the network to become the platform for delivery of services on demand. [That’s quite a change from the weeks or months it now takes to provision new services or even provide customer connectivity]
  • Move functions closer to end customers to improve performance and lower cost of service delivery.

4.  Where will the NFV Telco DC be built?

The choices include: existing DC, existing network Point of Presence (PoP), customer premises (for very large customers), 3rd party PoPs. Expect operators to use a combination of these approaches depending on what they have in place now.

[Smaller telcos and those that don’t provide web hosting/cloud computing services may have computers in their central offices/PoPs, but they’re not full blown DCs. It will be more difficult for them to build NFV/VNF based “telco data centers” for provisioning and management of new services.]

5.  When Will the NFV Telco DC be built? Timeline: 2014 – 2019

  • 2014 Server and storage virtualization; Higher layer (L5-L7) services
  • 2016 Network virtualization, virtual Radio Access Network (RAN); L2-L3 based services
  • 2018 Core network functions using NFV
  • 2019 “Cloudification” [not precisely defined although one can infer that all telco services will be created, provisioned, managed and maintain from a cloud computing like structure]

Panel Discussion:

NFV requires operators to find new ways of looking at basic network attributes like performance, reliability and security. For example, performance metrics may change in migrating to NFV – from raw/aggregate performance to performance per cubic meter, or performance per watt. Virtualization will transform many ways of configuring and managing network resources.

However, a business case must be established for an operator to move towards network virtualization/NFV/NVFs.  The cost and ROI must be proved justified to get Telco management approval. Heavy Reading analyst Roz Roseboro opined that projects which get funded are those that affect the top line that will result in increased revenues from new and enhanced services. In that sense, NFV is more likely to get more Telco funding than SDN, because it will greatly help an operator increase service velocity/time to market and thereby realize more money. SDN is more about OPEX reductions and efficiency she said.

Century Link Keynote:  James Feger, VP of Network Strategy & Development

CenturyLink is counting on its Savvis acquisition to make them hugely successful in cloud computing and to build a “cloudified” telco DC for traditional network services. Acquired in 2011, Savvis is a separate vertical entity within CenturyLink (which includes the former Embarq, U.S. West, Qwest and other companies. CenturyLink has successfully integrated the cloud orchestration and software development of Tier 3, and the platform-as-a-service capabilities of AppFog in their cloud computing capabilities).

The company has five different platforms they’ve tried to bring together in a “CenturyLink cloud,” but they are standardizing on the Savvis cloud platform which has been “rolled into CenturyLink’s backbone network,” according to Mr. Feger.

James pointed out that succeeding in cloud services is not a no brainer: “There’s a lot of risk in cloud as to what it can actually deliver. Cloud is not ‘rust resistant.’ It must be: programmable, self-service, and offer on-demand services.”

The CenturyLink Cloud process and operations involve the following attributes:

  •  Agile methodology
  • 21- to 30-day release cycles
  • DevOps team2
  • Minimum viable product (not explained)
  • Building block architecture which is API based
  • Constant feedback to improve operations and services

Note 2: While network operations is traditionally a stand-alone function with dedicated staff, the DevOps model eliminates the hand-off from development to operations, keeps the developers in the feedback loop, and incentivizes developers to resolve problems or complications on their own instead of passing them to the Operations department.

The realization of the above cloud attributes is via open applications programming interfaces to software that exists above the physical network. Open source software will allow developers to offer their apps or services regardless of the underlying infrastructure, Feger said.  James said that “agility combined with our network platform is CenturyLink’s differentiator.”

Continuing, he added, “We’re taking a very aggressive approach.” Feger was quite proud of testimonials from Forbes and Information Week, which stated, “CenturyLink is a cloud company.”

The challenge is to extend the benefits of cloud services to traditional telecom/network services and operations, especially release cycles for new services.

“My goal is to reach the point where the network is not important to the customer and I’m the network guy,” Feger said. “Of course, the network will always be important, but we want to get to the point where we deliver the application or service and delight the customer, and they don’t have to think about the network,” he added.

Feger was quite honest during his talk. He confessed that the service cycles on the network side are still measured in months, not weeks or days. By incorporating the agile technology approaches of the CenturyLink Cloud and the use of a DevOps model, CenturyLink hopes to improve on that. But not this year or next.

“It will be a multi-year project to migrate our network to a cloud like set of capabilities, while minimizing (existing) customer disruptions.”

Tier 3 brings software cloud orchestration over the DC. It was developed using a lot of open source code. “We’re taking the best of each (acquired) company and trying to bring them together,” he added.

The take away here is that CenturyLink is attempting to leverage their highly regarded cloud capabilities to offer “cloud-like” L1 to L3 network services, e.g. IP MPLS VPN, Ethernet services, private line (e.g. T1/T3/OC3), broadband Internet access, video, and other wire-line services. Service delivery times must become a lot shorter, while programmability, orchestration, and automation are necessary components to make this happen.


Part 2. has been published.  It covers the keynotes from Orange and NTT America, security issues, along with a summary and conclusion of this excellent 1 day conference.

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