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NFV (Network functions virtualization)

MW13: NFV Picks Up Speed

NICE, France -- Management World 2013 -- Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) may become a reality in commercial telecom operator networks sooner than many expected, with the pace of adoption and acceptance taking many from the vendor community by surprise, according to people here in Nice.

NFV, whereby certain functions can be hosted on generic IT platforms in data centers rather than deployed in a more distributed fashion on proprietary hardware platforms, has become a cause célèbre among an influential group of major telecom operators in recent months. (See What's NFV All About? and Carriers Peer Into Virtual World.)

But it's clear that these operators are not just discussing the potential cost and operational advantages of NFV -- they're acting on it as well.

That much was signaled by Deutsche Telekom AG in April, when one of its executives stated during the Ethernet Europe event in Munich that existing IT platforms had been verified as carrier grade and significant trial and project activity is underway at multiple operators. (See The Benefits of NFV.)

And there's further evidence here in Nice of just how quickly operators are moving: One senior executive from a major Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) vendor here told Light Reading on background that his company was taken aback by how quickly carriers are pushing for NFV capabilities and that a major Tier 1 operator was already saying it wouldn't buy anything that wasn't virtualized.

That view is also being expressed in meetings with industry analysts. "The vendors are shocked at how quickly operators are moving on their virtualization plans," noted Heavy Reading Chief Analyst Graham Finnie, who has been meeting multiple industry players here in Nice. (See Policy Control: Preparing for a Virtual Makeover?)

And the carriers themselves are making it clear that, in their eyes, future communications networking architectures will be radically different to those in commercial operation today.

In a presentation here Tuesday, Laurent Leboucher, Global IS & Technology chief architect at France Télécom – Orange, noted that in the coming years "global virtual network providers will emerge," with software-defined networking (SDN) technologies being used to control the network and NFV capabilities to provide the functionality.

Such networks, he noted, would be driven primarily by emerging IT technologies and be exposed to third-party applications developers to enable multiple digital partnerships. "We have to get out of the trap … we need to monetize our data networks and to do that we have to work more and more with partners -- and that's a fact," said Leboucher.

To enable those partner relationships, Orange is developing a Digital Bridge to "develop and introduce new services and applications." That concept is close to an architecture blueprint, noted the Orange executive, who highlighted the importance of the TM Forum's Open Digital Economy initiative in the ongoing development process. (See TM Forum Launches Open Digital Economy Group.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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