Why Service Providers are taking the TLA Approach?

By Vishal Agrawal, Managing Director, India and SAARC, Avaya

When the concept of Network Functions Virtualization (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 skeptical 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 lines, 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.

While the regional telecom industry is among the most advanced and highly competitive in the world, in order to remain competitive and relevant, and continue being at the forefront of the industry services quickly and efficiently, it is looking for a combination of reliability, agility and security to continue enhancing its customer experience, 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 which makes SDN and NFV so interesting for the telecom 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. 

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 to demand a maintenance window to apply changes, and have an opportunity to rollback, 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 on the network. 

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’s expectations. 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 your 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 is not going to magically disappear or improve. 

By visualizing the enterprise and moving to services based architecture, other virtualized 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 virtualized 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 services, contrary to other vendors that continue to go hop-by-hop. Operators need to think about evolution not revolution: it is imperative that they maintain their current assets while evolving towards SDN and service providers need to carefully evaluate the various solutions available.

 

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