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Network Functions Virtualization (NFV): Early adoption or a timely and essential strategy?

A hot topic in a cold climate

MWC, once again, captured multiple developments, ideas, initiatives, inventions and new ways of looking at things and delivered universal focus to help us all calibrate our efforts, or at least sensitise our plans. It was great to catch up with colleagues and share ideas and insights about the hugely significant year that 2018 is shaping up to be for Telcos. We can count on an increasing wave of pressure building up around 5G and its natural and ever-present partner, network transformation.

Just about this time last year I posted a blog pre-MWC17 where I said “As MWC17 approaches…there is every sign that things are about to change. To put it another way, there is overwhelming pressure to make sure they do.” My thoughts were around the advent of the IoT and the requirement for carriers to invest carefully in new technology and networking infrastructure as they set about the task of creating the network of the future.

There is more than just a technology issue involved. The business case for modernising the network is strong; new customer demands will require new business models from Telcos, representing a clear step forward on traditional services and demonstrating true organisational agility in giving customers what they want.

For an organisation to be able to respond rapidly to market pressures, revitalising and innovating its services to deliver outstanding customer experiences, it has to have the technological agility to do so. Technology for its own sake is just a way of diluting your ROI. Technology associated with a clear revitalised business strategy and models is a winning combination.

Unprecedented resilience and reliability

I’m not a lone voice in such views. An article in TechTarget suggested:

“ Network functions virtualisation andsoftware-defined networking will play increasingly large roles in the future of networking, converting what used to be specialised hardware or local virtual machines into software running in the cloud. All management functions, including analytics, will reside in the cloud, providing full-function, extensible, manage-anywhere flexibility and unprecedented resilience and reliability.”

Finding the way forward isn’t always easy in a market where so many pressures continue to pile up, so many technologies present themselves as the optimum solution, and so much remains invested in legacy infrastructures, not to say legacy approaches. VMware’s focus at MWC18 was on engaging with individuals to clarify strategies around NFV adoption. To hold back simply because the methodologies may be new is not the soundest of strategies, while all around the signs (5g/IoT/4th Industrial Revolution primarily) are consistently pointing to the need for change.

Virtualisation is a tried and tested technology that has for so long been delivering new efficiencies in the datacentre and across the enterprise in general. The natural assimilation of abstraction into network infrastructures therefore has many use cases to prove its effectiveness. Network operators need only look beyond their own sphere to appreciate what NFV can bring to their networks.

Be different now or be just the same later

Innovation is just that – doing new things, taking on board new approaches and ultimately, daring to be different. Those who do it first are different and they gain the first mover advantage. Those who delay, by definition, become followers. When they do there will be a risk of finding that the best claims have already been staked. At MWC18, VMware showcased how our multi-cloud-to-edge infrastructure and support for OpenStack and cloud-native apps empower CSPs to digitally transform from being no more than ‘connectivity providers’ into agile enablers of rich 5G & IOT services, dynamic content and personalised experiences. We also presented a path for CSP’s to participate in the new “cloud economy” across private, public and Telco clouds to further enable new revenue opportunities.

The hunt for mass market NFV

One of the overall discussion themes at MWC was ‘The Hunt for Mass-Market NFV’, a session described thus: “NFV has been much discussed, and much trialled. There have been few substantial live deployments, though. This session investigates what lessons have been learnt from live NFV so far and what barriers to wider adoption remain in the technology, the market and the mobile industry itself.”

I was a little surprised to see this topic outlined in the way it was, given that VMware now has more than 100 live NFV deployments in production, some running multiple VNFs and multiple services across our NFV infrastructure platform. There are numerous Telcos well ahead of the curve, or where MWC18 believes the curve to be.

NFV is a large constituent element in any strategy to meet the future head-on with agile operations and a responsive network that can scale on demand; and demand for bandwidth there will be, in abundance. From cities and transportation systems to cars and houses, and every industry you care to name, IoT is upon us. The need to transport data rapidly is upon us.

What’s the hold-up?

Telecommunications will respond with both new technologies and increasingly more aggressive competitive spirt. It will be, quite simply, a gold rush. The question must be asked, therefore, what’s holding anybody back from at least exploring their options around NFV?  Why hesitate when evidence shows that competitive companies are advanced on their virtualization journeys? Do they know something you don’t?

If there’s hesitancy in the industry, where is it coming from? There certainly will be golden opportunities for Telcos with the right network capabilities. There can be little sound rationale for not assessing what those capabilities are, and how they can be assimilated into current network architectures.

At MWC18 VMware provided not only demonstrations of how to pin down the benefits of NFV, but also showed the ease with which NFV can be adopted. Our vCloud NFV platforms, for example, enable CSPs to:

  • Accelerate services deployments and foster innovation for IoT and 5G services
  • Simplify operations, delivering operational intelligence and visibility across the network
  • Access enormous choice through a best-in-class NFV partner ecosystem

We looked also at on-boarding, with our partners, Intel. This technical session looked at accelerated NFV adoption through open sourced tools and a community that helps remove the roadblocks of on-boarding network functions. As the year unfolds and the challenges mount, VMware can help you gain agility in the network to respond, revitalize, and reap the rewards of the opportunities ahead. Get in touch if you’d like to discuss further.

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