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Production deployments of NFV Infrastructure: 4 Top of Mind Issues for CSPs


Author: Roshan Thekkekunnel, Group Product Manager, NFV Platforms


For the last few years we have seen a lot of excitement and activity in the industry around NFV use cases with a lot of PoC activity across the globe. As we close out on 2015, we are finally tracking transitions from successful PoCs to actual NFV deployments. As Communication Service Providers (CSPs) make this transition, they are faced with a new set of challenges that needs to be addressed.


While the “what” of NFV solution is getting clearer, the focus is rapidly shifting to the “how” of making this transition happen. At the very core of the NFV cloud is the NFV Infrastructure and my conversations with CSPs in recent times is around four primary areas. 


1. Proven Hardware Architecture


When looking at hardware infrastructure, the conversations previously centered around the capability and reliability of the hardware components. However, as we move into the deployments phase, concerns are well beyond the individual components themselves and is focused more around the architecture and how these hardware components are brought together to achieve high availability with optimum performance. The discussions have moved from simply talking about DPDK enabled chipsets, high performance CPUs, server reliability to entire infrastructure performance characteristics, no single point of failure, etc. Going with a tried and tested architecture is critical for CSPs,  to ensure that they do not spend cycles trying to architect new designs, running the risk of finding issues in live production environment.


A related architecture question that CSPs need to consider with their infrastructure, especially while selecting their initial designs, is the ability to expand seamlessly and meet future network demands. This is where a future-proof design that is modular and allows for easy expansion will make a difference.


2. Pre-configured Software Stack optimized for carrier environment


More and more, CSPs are requiring OpenSource based solutions for the NFV Virtual Infrastructure Management (VIM) layer. Carrier grade features that guarantee performance, high availability (HA)  and manageability are key in these environments.  While deploying the VIM layer on any given hardware solution, there are quite a few tweaks that needs to be configured in the Software stack to ensure that the VNFs themselves would derive maximum performance from the underlying hardware infrastructure. When it comes to manageability, one has to ensure that not only the VIM, but also physical infrastructure management (PIM) components are integrated optimally. Efforts to centralize the management and monitoring capabilities will go a long way in relieving the pain points and consequently OPEX for CSPs. Finally on HA, care has to be taken that every virtual component has any single point of failure. These are areas where a CSP is challenged to ensure that the SW stack in optimized for their hardware infrastructure.


3. Premium Services


On purchasing the equipment, CSPs face need to integrate their NFV solution with existing network. This is where CSPs are looking for suppliers who can provide an E2E delivery service that ensure that the system is easily/seamlessly integrated into their network.


Once the NFV Infrastructure is deployed, the focus shifts to support services. In POCs we typically see the infrastructure built from piece/parts, however in a live production network, no CSPs can tolerate any down time. Meaning - despite all the redundancy built into the design at the physical and virtual layers, the CSPs need the backing of premium support services that guarantees enhanced SLAs, trained technicians familiar with NFV technology and who handles the support requests at a solution level as opposed to the parts that is typically found in the enterprise support world.


4.Lifecycle Management


Finally, the most important issue in my opinion is the question around lifecycle management. With a “DIY” solution built from piece/parts, CSPs have no control over the HW lifecycle or the SW lifecycle. When a particular server, switch, storage device, NICs or even a memory disk goes End of Sale, it is up to the CSP to figure out a compatible replacement. This problem is exacerbated with SW components, especially if there are changes in APIs when going from one version to another. CSPs will need extended guarantees around backward/forward compatibility and product availability for all the components in the solution.


This is where I believe the “pre-configured” bundle NFVI SKUs that are designed off proven architecture will be the trend for the future. Credible suppliers who can provide enhanced  Support and Service wrapper around these “pre-configured” offerings and can ensure lifecylce guarantees with such solutions will help alleviate most of the pain points that CSPS are currently facing. Helping accelerate the industry transition to NFV.



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