Network Function Virtualization: A Game Changer for Service Providers
By Daniel Kwan, VP and GM, APeJ, Sonus
As companies expand their global presence and geographically-dispersed teams collaborate more closely to achieve desired business outcomes, leveraging Cloud-based real-time voice, video and unified communications is now more important than ever.
In Asia Pacific, a report from Frost & Sullivan predicts that enterprises in the region will be migrating from on-premises to Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) at an accelerated rate. The primary driver of which is the deployment flexibility these Cloud-based solutions offer.
With enterprises turning to Cloud-based real-time voice, video and UC solutions, it makes perfect sense for service providers to improve the way they deliver such services by migrating their own networks to virtual formats. This move offers a win-win opportunity for both service providers and their customers, especially when it comes to cost efficiency. Apart from capex savings, virtualization also offers the ability to automate the delivery and orchestration of services.
Service Provider Networks Changing their Ways with NFV
Network function virtualization (NFV) technology is the key to making the win-win scenario possible. With NFV, network functions that previously required dedicated hardware running specialized software can now be delivered by software running on top of a virtual server in the service provider’s data centre or point of presence (POP). Over time, providers will deliver value added services to enterprises through the addition of service orchestration that enables automated delivery of services, through self-service portals – even when those services must span several provider POPs. Once network wide virtual orchestration is achieved, it is much easier for service providers to realize the benefits of NFV technology, especially in lowering operating costs.
Underpinning this increased efficiency is growth in the deployment of virtual Session Border Controllers (SBCs), which eliminate the need for providers to purchase specialized hardware in order to bring applications to their customers. Under the old model, delivering new services to customers meant installing new hardware in its own POP and/or at the customer site. This also means that service providers needed to provision and maintain both hardware and software. In contrast, with NFV, they can easily and quickly deliver new applications by running them on a hypervisor on top of any server, without necessitating any purpose-built hardware.
NFV Deployment for Service Providers
Virtualization does not mean service providers will need to get rid of their installed physical appliance infrastructure in just a snap – and there are a number of ways to approach this. The first consideration is to choose a geographic area and a specific POP, and virtualize that. Another option would be to pick a network element, such as an SBC, and start virtualizing that element in the network. For example, if a provider is delivering SIP Trunking to 10,000 separate customers, it will mean shipping an SBC as customer premise equipment (CPE) to each site and turning it up.
In the world of SBC-as-a-Service (SBCaaS) however, service providers can begin offering services from a virtual SBC sitting on a hypervisor in a POP as soon as new customers come on board. They can then gradually migrate existing customers from the hardware-based SBC to the virtual instance. From there, providers can consider deploying SBCaaS at different POPs within the markets they operate in. Upon reaching critical mass, they can then add service orchestration. As customers request SBCaaS through a self-service portal, service orchestration software processes the request and implements the service – whether for a single site or multiple sites served by different POPs. Once a provider reaches that level of fully automated, orchestrated network, it will be able to lower its operating costs while rolling out value added services more quickly.
As such, NFV technology offers a variety of benefits to both service providers and their customers. For providers, leveraging NFV not only provides opportunities to lower operating cost, but also to increase agility when customers prefer new services or cancel existing ones, as these can be easily allocated to other customers. From an enterprise standpoint, virtualization frees them from having to invest in and manage on-premises equipment, while having the flexibility to run services far more quickly.
SBCaaS is only one of the various services providers may offer using NFV technology. In the long term, the NFV strategy can be applied to almost any kind of network application, including video and other UC applications.