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Virtualization Is Progressing, but What About Cloud & Automation?

James Crawshaw

Communications service providers are about a fifth of the way towards their virtualization targets according to a recent Heavy Reading survey. The study, which polled representatives from 69 different CSPs, found the dominant market for NFV commercial deployments was enterprise communications with SD-WAN, cloud VPN and security, followed by mobile core with VoLTE and VoWiFi.

We also asked how much of their network operators were aiming to virtualize in the long run. Obviously you can't virtualize physical plant-like optical fibre and lasers. Nor are you likely to run very demanding applications like core routing on generic servers. On average, our respondents said their target was 40%, though how one would actually measure this (number of network functions, dollar value, traffic throughput) is unclear. What is clear is that hybrid networks (physical and virtual network functions) will persist for some time.

While it may be no shock that NFV is still in its infancy, it is perhaps more surprising how little operators are using a cloud model with orchestration to manage their virtualized networks. According to our survey, just 23% of virtualized networks used orchestration to automate services; the rest (77%) depend on manual operations. Without orchestration, CSPs will not experience the levels of automation they want and will not be ready with their telco cloud offerings for the 5G market.

Does the low uptake of orchestration reflect the fact that NFV is still in its infancy and as virtualization becomes more widespread orchestration adoption will rise? Or is the low uptake of orchestration actually holding operators back from adopting virtualization more aggressively? This may be a case of the chicken and the egg (which came first?). One factor that is causing the delay in adoption is the difficulty of orchestrating across SDN, NFV and OSS domains. Today's implementations are often silo projects and not well integrated with existing operational support systems or even SDN implementations.

In fact, this and other technical and business hurdles we uncovered means that our survey respondents are taking, on average, 18 months to launch their first commercial services. This would explain the significantly high proportion of CSPs (77%) expressing an interest in outsourcing part of their telco cloud.

Which leads to some interesting commercial questions: Are operators going to deploy and support these systems themselves? Are they going to buy them as a managed service? Or are they going to buy software systems that adhere to opensource project interfaces without actually being open source themselves? As those commercial decisions become clearer, we are likely to see the adoption of orchestration systems increase. In the meantime, operations teams that lack NFV orchestration systems are likely to face some major headaches given the orchestrator's critical role in network service on-boarding and lifecycle management, global resource management and policy management.

To get more insights into the state of SDN and NFV adoption in the telecom industry, download a copy of the Heavy Reading whitepaper -- "SDN/NFV Pulse of the Industry: Commercial Realities."

This blog is sponsored by Netcracker Technology Corp.

— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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