Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Will Enable Telco Operators and SPs in Saudi to Introduce New Services Faster and Cost Effectively

4110Introducing new services is not an easy task for telecommunication companies and Service Providers (SPs) in Saudi. Their networks are populated with a large variety of proprietary hardware appliances. Launching a new service entails new hardware involving large capital investment, more data centre space, increasing energy costs and in addition, the problem is compounded by the shortage of skills required to design, integrate and operate complex hardware appliances. The pace of innovation in technology and services shortens hardware life-cycles making the roll-out of new potentially profitable network services prohibitively costly which is an obvious bottleneck for innovation.

Samer Ismair, System Engineer, MENA at Brocade Communications and IT networking expert says that this is where Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) comes into play. NFV is the move away from proprietary hardware in some segments of Telco operator and Service Provider networks. Unlike network virtualization, only the actual functions are virtualized, not the entire network. NFV is an initiative of ETSI Industry Specification Group, and aims to transform network architectures of operators. It involves the implementation of network functions in software that can run on a variety of industry standard server hardware and can be easily moved to various locations within the network without installing new hardware. Standard IT virtualization technology is used to consolidate various network equipment onto servers, switches and storage located in data centres, network nodes and end-user premises. NFV is applicable to any data plane packet processing and control plane function in mobile and fixed networks.

Virtualization is not a new concept. Today Gartner estimates that more than 50% of the x86 server install base is virtualized. This trend is not limited to application virtualization. Virtualized networking capabilities can also be deployed on non-proprietary server hardware and this is the crux of the NFV movement.

Virtualization provides the benefit of being able to host multiple applications on a single server, providing significant cost savings. However, for NFV the main impetus may not be ‘cost’ reduction although that is a major benefit of this approach. Large Telco operators and Service Providers in Saudi have millions to spend on traditional, proprietary gear. The reason, therefore, for the adoption of NFV is more for the speed with which services can be deployed due to the flexibility and agility of virtualization.

Traditional Service Providers are now looking at Amazon, Rackspace, and other Cloud Service Providers (CSP) and are working to adopt the CSP model without giving up their requirements for security, performance, and scale. The CSP model is a highly automated, highly orchestrated, virtualized system for deployment of Virtual Private Clouds. What makes the CSP model so attractive is its ability to provide services in innovative ways - and fast. CSPs can provide multi-tenancy in their Cloud Model with inbuilt security using VPN and firewalling. Most importantly, they are also providing Big Data tools to their customers for data analytics. This is not surprising, but indeed a smart move since they already collect tons of data. Their infrastructure gives them this ability to do data analytics natively and not as an afterthought which is characteristic of most traditional networks. For these reasons, the NFV movement is a validation of the CSP model.

Technical challenges for moving to NFV may pose a few obstacles. Dedicated and newer hardware is required to achieve faster speeds using SR-IOV (or PCI Passthrough). The need for dedicated servers stems from the fact that the NIC is tied to the interfaces of the virtual machine for higher throughput and performance (no virtual switches in between and therefore higher throughput). For maximized performance, newer servers with newer NICs that support SR-IOV are required. In addition to performance, higher Service Level Agreements (SLAs), stringent Quality of Service (QoS) requirements, and High Availability (HA) will be focus of the overall NFV effort.

A final point to support NFV requirements is the idea that server and chip vendors can now provide reference architectures (e.g. Intel) and create a staging area for new innovation. NFV has the potential to create a new paradigm in the networking industry by enabling Telco operators and Service Providers in Saudi to speed up application and service delivery to their end customers. This is indeed a trend that is worth following closely.

Note: Samer Ismair, System Engineer, MENA at Brocade Communications has over 10 years of experience in the IT networking field and is an expert in designing and building network solutions involving switching Routing, wireless, data centers, network management, security & unified communications, unified messaging, contact centers and mobility

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