When the concept of network functions virtualisation (NFV) first emerged a few years ago, there was some skepticism in the industry: not another acronym, standing for yet another promised leap forward for technology, hadn’t we seen it all before? With the networking industry also pushing software-defined networking (SDN), with these new technologies being promoted as a panacea to all networking-related ills, the sceptical reaction seemed to be just who exactly needed these TLAs (three-letter acronyms, in case you didn’t know)? Today, the answer would seem to be the telecom sector.
Facing declining revenues in their traditional business and struggling to compete in the crowded cloud services market, telecom operators are looking to increase their reliance on NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) technologies this year, according to a recent report from analyst firm Technology Business Research. By adopting SDN and NFV solutions, carriers can reduce costs and gain agility in service offerings, according to the firm. Operators who move now will also gain time-to-market advantage, helping them to attract enterprise customers before NFV and SDN become commonplace. This is a trend that Avaya has seen developing for a while.
While the regional telecom industry is among the most advanced and highly competitive in the world, it is looking for a combination of reliability, agility and security to continue enhancing its customer experience and provision new services internally and externally while remaining highly secure. With regional operators keen to expand outside their native markets, a network architecture that supports growth is essential.
It is the promise of services deployment acceleration through applications profiling that makes SDN and NFV so interesting for the sector. While the industry has done a good job at evolving the networking protocols to support various applications needs, there is still a great deal of complexity while making the environment very fragile, highly subject to instability and slow recovery, causing outages that the business cannot afford to have. While SDN promises to address these downfalls, Avaya fundamentally believes that we must first fix the foundation before we attempt to mask the level of complexity associated with deploying services end to end.
Nodal configuration using the legacy protocols carries a lot of risk due to its configuration complexity and implementation requiring multiple nodes to be reconfigured. Therefore, enterprises will normally go through an off-production lab testing and validation and likely demand a maintenance window to apply changes, and have an opportunity to roll back, in the event of a problem occurring due to misconfiguration of one of the nodes; this could be as simple as a type in a script or a wrong port number triggering a loop.
By moving to a services-based architecture, focusing on point of services provisioning as opposed to a nodal model, customers finally gain the agility and simplicity they have been looking for. But moving CLI scripting to SDN programming does not necessarily deliver on customer expectations. Hence why Avaya took a different approach by solving the control plane issues, while introducing at the edge of its architecture the ability to interface with other SDN controllers while maintaining a simplified end to end single protocol architecture based on a standard IEEE Protocol, Shortest Path Bridging (SPB 802.1aq). Avaya believes competitors for the most part are not enabling end to end services and focusing only on the data centre while ignoring the big picture. The orchestration piece of SDN is what may bring this to reality, but how long will it take before the provisioning tools are sophisticated enough to achieve this across the entire network? Do not lose sight of the same protocols being used, hence recovery times and risks associated with the multi-protocols approach from the legacy model are not going to disappear or improve.
By visualising the enterprise and moving to a services-based architecture, other virtualised network services defined as NFV can easily be integrated. Hence, a firewall service, a session border controller, etc. can easily be integrated with the already-virtualised networking infrastructure. In addition, by moving away from nodal configuration, the risk of IP DoS attacks and hacking is greatly reduced as Ethernet topology is used to establish communications to IP service. Operators need to think about evolution, not revolution: it is imperative that they maintain their current assets while evolving towards SDN.