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Traversing the Trough of Disillusionment: Why NFV will move into the mainstream for CSPs







Well, it’s official.  Gartner’s recent release of the Hype Cycle for the Telecommunications Industry 2016 moves Network Function Virtualization from its “Peak of Inflated Expectations” into the trough.   There it joins such good company as Software Defined Networking, Telecom analytics, and Managed Machine to Machine communications.  In fact, much skepticism has been published recently around NFV including long time NFV champion Tom Nolle commenting on the difficulty in making the business case (see multiple Cimi Corp blogs including this one:  How to Get NFV On Track), and Light Reading’s “Opex Gloom Grows in New NFV Survey”.

NFV is the next major core technology wave in telecom, following analog-to-digital and then everything IP, and the broad deployment of fiber.    And the history of major changes in telecom, and even in other industries, shows that the cheaper, consistent way of building services will win out.   Examples?  IP versus ATM, Ethernet versus TDM interfaces, Android and IoS versus Blackberry; or even VHS over Betamax.

NFV faces hurdles just like any new technology does, in NFV’s case these include:

  • Lack of standardized interfaces for VNF automation
  • Vested interests, such as current telecom equipment suppliers, seeking to delay its introduction or keep customers trapped in proprietary silos
  • Slow implementation of ISV applications as cloud-native VNFs.
  • Organizational change in the CSP
  • Lack of features in the open source code base

However NFV brings such compelling benefits, as IP and Ethernet did over telecom proprietary interfaces in their turn, that its march forward is inevitable.  These include:

  • Common lower cost, high performance IT hardware
  • Broad use of open source: OpenStack and OpenDaylight for example
  • Elimination of vendor silos for each technology, service type or region
  • The automation and innovation benefits of cloud technology applied to telecom


This last bullet is an important point.   NFV brings cloud technologies to the CSP production network.  Some in the industry equate NFV with virtualization, but virtualization is only an early stepping stone to NFV.  The full value in NFV comes with cloud technologies:  full automation of the VNF lifecycle, automated resource sharing and scheduling, fast time to market and instant scaling for services.   These eventually open the door to a micro service eco-system, which will in turn bring further benefits in terms of re-use, even better time to market, and service innovation.  We’ve published content on this topic a number of times such as this blog on the 4 Stages of NFV.

During the IP vs ATM debates of the 90’s there a came a point where it became clear that the momentum was behind IP despite what the ATM camp positioned as its inadequacies.  The momentum came because the benefits were so compelling.   The momentum ensured that the challenges, such as classes of service, security and address space were overcome.  

I’d say we are at the same place with NFV.    The challenges, as noted above and others, will be overcome because the benefits are compelling and the momentum is behind it.   CSPs do not want to be left out in the cold with expensive closed approaches when their new generation of competitors are nimble and based on open, agile and lower cost platforms.

It’s worth remembering that, according to the Gartner Hype Cycle, in order to reach the “plateau of productivity” every technology needs to move through the trough.    As I have often observed, the time you know that a technology has truly arrived is when the pundits have all moved on to something else.   I expect we may hear less about NFV as 2017 arrives, but that will mean it is quietly taking over the telecom infrastructure.


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