NFV (Network functions virtualization)

Vodafone Calls for End to Five Nines

LONDON -- OSS in the Era of SDN and NFV -- Vodafone has called for an end to the historic approach of using a "five-nines" metric as a measure of service reliability, saying it would be happy to get rid of the concept as it rolls out SDN and NFV technologies. That doesn't mean the company anticipates less reliable services, however.

Operators typically base service level agreements on a commitment to ensuring availability 99.999% of the time, but the virtualization of network infrastructure has already triggered a debate about the challenges of meeting this performance standard in future and even if it could be overhauled entirely.

That a major service provider has given a public signal of its willingness to ditch the whole five-nines concept is a huge deal and one that is likely to have ramifications for the entire market.

"We would be happy to get rid of the concept of five nines," said David Amzallag, the head of network virtualization, SDN and NFV at Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD), during a keynote presentation at Light Reading's "OSS in the Era of SDN and NFV" conference in London on Thursday morning. "We don't care if the virtual machine collapses as long as the right mechanism exists to recover in zero time and with zero damage to services."

The big challenge for the industry, as Amzallag pointed out, is developing the mechanisms that will support zero downtime and zero damage. "We do not have the mechanism today and are far from it but we are investing a lot to have it," he told attendees.

During an impassioned presentation about the obstacles that Vodafone faces in its rollout of SDN and NFV technologies, Amzallag took aim at the vendor community for showing "no leadership" in some of the most important areas.

"We are determined to base our whole journey -- transport, infrastructure and virtualization of the portfolio -- on open interfaces, but we have the weakest link in this area," he said. "We see no leadership on the vendor side about how to interface with OSS systems, new service orchestration -- no initiative at all."

Despite this, Vodafone is forging ahead with its SDN and NFV rollout and plans to take advantage of those technologies to launch a single VPN service across a number of global markets in the near future, replacing many of its country-specific VPN services in the process. (See DT, Vodafone to Launch SDN-Based VPNs.)

Amzallag has not disclosed precise details for the timescale of the launch, though sources with knowledge of the project have previously informed Light Reading the targets are extremely ambitious.

"The timetable to launch the VPN service in insane," said an industry executive requesting anonymity during the recent SDN & Openflow World Congress in Dusseldorf, Germany. "I don't know how they're going to do it [in the timeframe]."

Top-management pressure on Vodafone's NFV team could explain Amzallag's frustration with the vendor community, but Caroline Chappell, a principal analyst at Heavy Reading , says that other service providers already rolling out NFV technology face similar uncertainties.

"One question is how relevant is the existing OSS and there is very little consensus on this," says Chappell. "Quite a few [service providers] are already implementing NFV and starting with the existing OSS even though long-term it won't be fit for purpose."

For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

Asked by Light Reading why he thought there was a lack of leadership when it comes to OSS interfaces and service orchestration, Amzallag said there has been a history of poor collaboration in the industry in this area.

"Fragmentation has been notorious along the years and lack of leadership is a hint for a true revolution or change that needs to happen here," he said.

Other service providers appear to share many of Amzallag's concerns about support for BSS and OSS systems in a virtualized environment.

"The whole future of BSS and OSS architecture is very unclear to us and looks headed in a very complex direction -- it's the biggest task that we have in this space in my view with few mature directions," says Neil McRae, the chief network architect of UK fixed-line incumbent BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA).

BT has also publicly complained about the immaturity of OpenStack -- one of the open-source technologies widely seen as a building block for NFV networks -- arguing it is not ready for use with carrier services during a presentation at the SDN & Openflow World Congress. (See BT Threatens to Ditch OpenStack.

"It is a great platform but not well tested from a security point of view," said Amzallag, when discussing OpenStack during his presentation. "On top of open source code we need well defined layers that are not part of open source communities and we're investing there -- without that we will not be able to use open-source interfaces."

— Iain Morris, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, News Editor, Light Reading

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garyday 11/18/2015 | 4:42:20 AM
Re: A new way of thinking Thats not a 5x9's realiablity issue - thats a quality of experience issue, the Base Station is probably too weak when you are indoors to make a quality call, but this isn't necessarily affecting metrics that measure network availability (Everything is working just in your experience you have QoE related issues - you moving outside had no impact to the network availability)

kq4ym 11/17/2015 | 2:52:32 PM
Re: History It would seem if everything is planned "to recover in zero time and with zero damage to services," there would be no one bemoaning that. But just how soon that can be acheived is the question.  Vodaphone without the POTS background maybe the best cheerleader for moving forward.
brooks7 11/9/2015 | 1:13:20 PM
Re: A new way of thinking Gholling, Cut your broadband connection for 2 days. How will Netflix recover from that? Which is the point. There are some places where equipment redundancy is required, some where it is not. seven
prayson.pate 11/9/2015 | 7:05:40 AM
The bigger issue: OSS/BSS Integration and Roadmap While this article is about 5 nines, I think that the much bigger issue raised by David Amzallag of Vodafone on how to integrate SDN and NFV into today's systems, and the issue of open interfaces. Neil McRae of BT raises the bigger issue of the very future of OSS/BSS architecture.

I think that this is an area where operators and suppliers can work together to define workable models, and then feed those back into the stadards and industry bodies. Doing so will take a new level of cooperation and committment on both sides.
prayson.pate 11/9/2015 | 6:56:03 AM
Re: So.. mhhf1ve, I think that Amzallag is saying that a components-based focus (i.e. 5 nines) will be replaced with a system view of availability, as is used by Netflix and other cloud/OTT operators.

However, I do agree with your observation that new technologies will enable oprators to offer a variety of service levels, at different levels of availability and performance, at different price points.  More on that here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/telecom-service-quality-get-worse-before-gets-better-prayson-pate?trk=mp-author-card
ghollingworth750 11/6/2015 | 7:17:43 PM
Re: A new way of thinking It is a simple paradigm shift. See Netflix. How to deploy a 5x9's service on a 3x9's infrastructure
mhhf1ve 11/6/2015 | 2:22:11 PM
Re: History POTS is incredibly reliable... I can't imagine how expensive the Internet would be if it had the same requirements of constant back up power and future-proof compatibility. 

I guess, though, the internet would be stuck in a dial-up age forever....
brooks7 11/6/2015 | 9:16:28 AM

I want you all to recall where Vodaphone came from.  Vodaphone was originally Racal-Vodaphone and was a huge initiative by a company that was a diversified tech company to get into the wireless business.  Vodaphone thus has never had a wireline network nor a 5 9s structure like the traditional wireline communications companies have.

Because of that, it has never been subject to the fines (yes Wireline companies here in the US can be fined for outages).  So, it has a perspective that is different than many of the major Wireless companies do.

I have said the following in many venues, but nobody ever really thinks about it....It turns out POTS is hard.  If you read the old documents around POTS, you will find a product that needs to be deployed, always work, and never require an update.  That is vastly different than a SaaS service that the vendor can update at will.

Is 5 9s still important?  I think that there are still situations where the design of the transmission network will still call for it.  Particularly where redundancy is difficult at the edge.

mhhf1ve 11/5/2015 | 8:42:38 PM
So.. This doesn't mean five-nines isn't available, right? It just means there will be different price differentiation tiers. 
Mitch Wagner 11/5/2015 | 4:00:39 PM
Re: A new way of thinking sowen557 - The rationale for ending five 9s is shifting uptime from devices to services, making it MORE likely, not less, that you'll be able to connect to emergency services when having a cardiac event. 
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