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Managing OTT Traffic in the SDN/NFV Future

A new way of thinking is needed if SDN and NFV are to be adopted successfully.

In my previous installment in this series on managing and securing SDN and NFV, I mentioned that the management of telecom networks today is a challenge, with explosive traffic growth driven by over-the-top (OTT) content consumed on highly mobile devices in an unpredictable fashion. (See Managing & Securing SDN & NFV.)

I also said that the management solutions that are in place today have been slow to adapt to this reality, which is compounded by the fact that our static management practices and systems are not well suited to the dynamic and bursty nature of Ethernet/IP networks. Let's take a closer look at what lies behind these statements.

One of the drivers for introduction of SDN and NFV in telecom networks is the desire to reduce the time it takes to introduce new services. The flexibility and agility that SDN and NFV are intended to provide are expected to make it quicker and easier to configure services. Hence the focus on configuration interfaces and topology models in current discussions on managing SDN and NFV.

The issue is that there are assumptions underlying this perspective that no longer hold.

The focus on the introduction of new services is based on the assumption that carriers are in control of the services that are offered and consumed on their networks. It has a strong historical basis, as carriers have traditionally had this kind of control. Nevertheless, the reality is that the majority of services offered and consumed on carrier networks are not owned by carriers but by third parties often referred to as OTT content providers, since they are offering their services over the Internet, often as apps on mobile devices.

The latest Cisco Mobile Visual Networking Index (VNI) report paints a clear picture with the prediction that more than 69% of mobile data traffic will be mobile video by 2018. And that's just video. It is also growing, with a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61% in the period 2013 to 2018.

So, while there is a justified focus for carriers on using SDN and NFV to better manage the introduction of carrier services, the real value of SDN and NFV will be in helping to manage the growth in dynamic, often unpredictable consumption of OTT services.

Consider this scenario: A concert is being held in a downtown stadium. At the start of the show, everyone raises their mobile devices to take a video clip of the show to send to their friends who are not at the show. Some may even be streaming the video. Before long, this concentration of high-bandwidth service usage will have a serious impact on the network and will affect not only the people at the show, but also anyone living close to the stadium.

This is a good example of an event that can, in theory, be predicted but in practice cannot be managed, as it would require an extensive cross-correlation of bandwidth needs and public events that could potentially generate traffic. The answer to these situations is to have the agility to re-organize network resources to accommodate the sudden shift in data traffic. SDN and NFV have the ability to provide that agility. But how are these technologies called into action? What is the trigger to initiate re-configuration using SDN and NFV?

The answer is real-time insight. Network appliances today provide the capability to monitor network activity and trigger action in real time. This capability is currently used for network and application performance monitoring or network security applications. It not only involves detection of real-time events but also correlation of real-time activity with historic activity to detect anomalies or performance degradations. These same capabilities can be used by OSS/BSS systems to trigger re-configuration of the network using SDN and NFV.

Indeed, the suggestion to use a policy-driven approach to management of SDN and NFV makes it a lot easier to implement this real-time capability. Real-time insight can be used to trigger pre-defined policies that can be automatically initiated in the network using SDN and NFV.

In the above approach, I am advocating the use of existing network appliances to provide real-time insight. Many would question whether this function can be virtualized as part of the NFV framework or could be offered by the SDN switch or controller.

To understand the challenges of implementing real-time insight, we need to understand the challenges of managing Ethernet and IP in general. The next installment in this series will take a closer look at these challenges.

— Dan Joe Barry, VP, Marketing, Napatech

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