The implementation of network functions virtualization (NFV) is set to be the first step toward much greater integration of IT and telecom technologies and, ultimately, "a complete convergence of cloud platforms and networking equipment." (See What's NFV All About?)
So believes Yves Bellego, director of Technical Strategy at France Télécom - Orange, one of the Tier 1 carrier members of the Industry Specifications Group focused on NFV that was formed in late 2012 under the auspices of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). (See Carriers Peer Into Virtual World.)
Cost control is one of the benefits Bellego and his peers are hoping to achieve from any NFV implementations. "There is a wide shift in the telecom industry towards IT. The ever growing power of standard IT components makes possible the use of such standard components in place of specialized hardware," notes Bellego in response to questions from Light Reading.
"At first, we expect cost reduction of the hardware -- standard platforms, no obsolescence concerns. Later, we believe that virtualization will enable faster service production, greater flexibility and easier operation."
Ultimately, "NFV is a step towards IT and telecom convergence. In the long term this could bring a totally new landscape in the networking area, with a complete convergence of cloud platforms and networking equipment," he adds.
That's certainly in line with the views of networking executives who believe NFV and its close relative, software-defined networking (SDN), can herald a revolution in the way communications networks are planned, built and managed. (See 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?)
What's ripe for the NFV treatment?
So are there particular telecom network elements that are more suitable for NFV deployments than others? "The first elements that could benefit from NFV are service platforms, network control equipment," such as the Policy and Charging Rules Function (PCRF) and other IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) functions, "then some edge equipment that does not handle very high traffic, such as CDN [content delivery network] platforms, SBC [session border controller], some border gateways."
Bellego notes that major transport equipment devices such as core routers, "are out of scope."
Along with other major carriers, such as Deutsche Telekom AG, the Orange R&D team is already evaluating NFV capabilities. "As said before, we think that network control equipment will be the first that could benefit from virtualization, so we are working on that topic. We are also looking at the potential impact that NFV ... could have for CDN platforms." (See The Benefits of NFV.)
And as they make progress, the carriers are sharing their insights at regular meetings of the NFV Industry Specifications Group, the most recent of which was held in California in April. "Standardization is very important to achieve open interfaces and interoperability between solutions from different suppliers ... We believe that the ETSI initiative will help the definition of interfaces between the software components of the future networking elements. And this is very important as we are looking for an easy integration of virtualized components in cloud infrastructure," notes Bellego.
But while the carriers are hopeful that NFV can deliver efficiencies and operational advantages, they also know it's going to be very tough to implement. "The integration of several different functions in the same platform will raise some reliability and isolation issues, even if virtualization natively assures some isolation between components," says the Orange executive. "Before switching to this new architecture we have to be confident that it will provide the same quality of service to our customers."
That mirrors the views of the carrier executives who have been pushing the NFV agenda. They are hopeful but cautious.
For more on this topic:
- MW13: NFV Picks Up Speed
- ConteXtream Claims a Carrier SDN Coup
- MW13: Amdocs Embraces Virtualization
- One Problem With NFV
- Alcatel-Lucent CTO States the Case for NFV
- NFV: Talk of the Town
– Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading