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The way forward for Communication Service Providers

Telco_Editor

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Over the past three years, changes in the telecommunications landscape have continued without pause, with the telco network being a prime example of where we’ve seen a particularly rapid evolution. Beyond technology advances and breakthroughs, we’ve seen how the industry’s understanding and appreciation of network functions virtualization (NFV) has, itself, evolved.

When it first came on the scene, and in the time leading up to and through 2014, most of the discussions about NFV were about the ‘what’: What is NFV? What makes up an NFV deployment? What are the key technologies enablers? How are they different from predecessor technologies deployed in enterprise?

From a technology perspective, we’ve learned that NFV starts with a programmable network infrastructure, but doesn’t really take shape without NFV-specific orchestration capabilities to drive those resources. Arm-in-arm with those capabilities are much more evolved and comprehensive frameworks for managing the onslaught of data generated by a virtualized network service model. In such an environment, these tools are the lifeblood of ensuring service delivery and leveraging customer usage patterns for business and operational benefits.

Armed with an understanding of the technological workings of NFV, in 2015 folks starting asking themselves ‘why?’ – testing and probing the rationale for NFV and identifying for themselves the types of use cases and business justifications which warranted its deployment in their particular businesses.

Early on in its evolution, people were focused on the capital cost savings NFV would provide – move from proprietary hardware appliances to industry-standard server platforms would decrease investment costs as new functions were rolled out. Although that is true, what CSP have discovered is that the more important benefit of NFV is in how it can help the business be more agile; NFV lets CSPs deploy network services more quickly and makes it easier to adopt service delivery as customer needs change. This translates to faster time-to-market and happier customers.

With the technologists and business leaders now in agreement, we find ourselves in 2016 and NFV has really taken off; almost everyone has and is experimenting with NFV technology and is working toward ambitious, long-term deployment objectives. At this stage, there is near-universal recognition and acceptance of a virtualized, cloudified network as being critical to a prosperous telecom industry.

In that light, the current question on people’s minds is ‘how?’ – How should NFV be deployed to ensure success? What are the principles and best practices that will ensure successful NFV deployment? What are the pitfalls to be avoided?

From early on in this maturation, it became pretty clear that NFV wasn’t just about vendor-by-vendor capabilities. As with the emergence and widespread proliferation of enterprise virtualization and cloud, a vibrant ecosystem was going to be a critical factor for the overall market success of NFV since that would be the best way to spur contribution and innovation from the largest set of vendors possible. For customers, this meant embrace of (and even participation in) a multi-vendor approach to solution deployment.

But beyond technology, the clearest ‘how’ realization that telcos large and small have come to is that NFV requires an evolved culture that puts emphasis on continuous integration, speed, and agility. And that the best way to instigate that type of change is by getting early successes and experience with focused, limited-scope NFV deployments. This doesn’t mean replicating in software a network capability you already have, but instead identifying a new, reasonably-scoped service that can be uniquely enabled by NFV. In doing so, the business gets to see real benefits, the organization gets comfortable with the more agile operating model that NFV requires, and everyone becomes better prepared to take on more ambitious projects. A great example of this is HPE’s partnership with Swisscom on their virtual customer premise equipment (vCPE) project. Swisscom set about to tackle a very narrow problem: offer a virtual CPE solution with substantially reduced time-to-market and operational burdens compared to ‘traditional’ physical CPE deployments. The project was the catalyst for a whole new service offering, didn’t impact Swisscom’s core network, and Swisscom has gained valuable insights and experience on the new, more agile way services can be developed and deployed with NFV as a catalyst.

Stepping back, the lessons that can be drawn from initial NFV deployments is that increasing speed and agility – whether through NFV or better operational models – is the real objective telcos must focus on. NFV for NFV sake is not only a bad business justification, but can also distract the organization from the real operational and culture challenges and that must be overcome in order to compete at cloud-speed and thrive. In that way, NFV has become both the messenger and the message of that transformation.

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Visit us at our HPE website, and follow us on Twitter at @HPE_NFV and @HPE_CSP.

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