LONDON -- While many communications service providers are pressing ahead with plans to virtualize their networks, most admit they are still struggling with how their operations will support NFV and SDN, and there is no one strategy for how those systems evolve -- yet.
In a workshop here today, both Heavy Reading 's Caroline Chappell and TM Forum 's Dave Milham presented research showing CSPs remain uncertain of their operations support system (OSS)/business support system (BSS) strategies going forward, and are divided on how much virtualized networks will rely on legacy operations or require something totally different.
Chappell, who is principle analyst for cloud and NFV, noted that her research shows this uncertainty around operations isn't holding back movement to adopt network functions virtualization (NFV), however, at least where public pronouncements are concerned. She calls this the "keeping up with AT&T" syndrome, as network operators tell her they have to push virtualization forward to keep up with a variety of competitors, including those with aggressive and public virtualization plans.
Her research finds "remaining competitive against existing and new competitors" is now the number two driver for NFV deployment, behind speeding up new service delivery. "We are hearing a lot of aggressive talk and momentum around NFV," Chappell noted.
And yet her research also shows that about half of the companies that say they have begun to deploy NFV admit they don't yet have an OSS/BSS strategy for virtualization.
In fact, when asked about their OSS/BSS strategy for NFV, the service provider respondents reported no strategy yet (25% overall); plans for new BSS/OSS for both virtual and physical networks (21%); determination to use existing BSS/OSS to manage NFV (20%); plans to manage the virtual and physical infrastructure in parallel using a new system for the virtual gear (20%); and lastly, plans to keep the existing BSS but change out the OSS (12%).
"It's really all over the map," she said. Getting NFV and SDN to achieve carrier goals of faster delivery of innovative services "is proving very difficult in practice, especially when you say you want to transform OSS as part of that."
The reality of how this new service creation process fits into the operating environment is what might have NFV moving from its hype phase into "the slough of despair," Chappell said, as CSPs face the very tough decisions on how all of these new on-demand, virtualized services are going to be delivered.
Chief Architect Milham chose to characterize the current phase as "a valley of opportunity" for those engaged, as the TM Forum is, in reshaping OSS/BSS to function in the virtualization era.
He pointed to efforts by the Forum to lay out what he called "revolution, in incremental steps" that ultimately evolves the OSS/BSS strategy of the operators. Building on its Project Zoom -- Zero-Touch, Operations, Orchestration and Management -- and now 25 different Catalyst Projects in this arena, the Forum is laying out those steps more clearly, and building best practices on how to deliver an end-to-end service management view.
Part of that is moving away from rigid architectures, Milham said, and focusing on opportunities that CSPs have to move well beyond their traditional physical network footprint in delivering digital services almost anywhere. He compared what CSPs can do in the digital service arena to what Airbnb and Uber do in hotel delivery and car service today, without owning any hotels or taxis.
There is also the need to do key processes -- partnering, agile product lifecyle management, dev-ops, policy-driven services and more -- at industry scale, Milham says. And all of that means doing things in a different way, whether it's simplifying and rationalizing internal processes or bringing IT and network operations together in the dev-ops approach.
One result of the concentrated Catalysts in the NFV space has been the development of a library of open APIs for various network functions, Milham noted. The longer-term result of that work can be creating the ability to buy and sell with partners on an on-demand basis that isn't customized around a specific product or service.
The Forum continues to call for Catalyst projects -- each of which requires a service provider sponsor -- that shape the vision of the Operations Centre (hey, it's London) of the future, he said, and define its operating principles as well as the best practices it will require.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading