A year into its experience in pioneering Distributed NFV with virtualization at the customer premises, RAD is finding that real deployments of this new technology are possible, but there is still considerable work to be done on the business case and supporting orchestration efforts.
RAD Data Communications Ltd. launched its D-NFV concept more than a year ago, and it became the core piece of one of the ETSI NFV ISG's first proofs of concept (PoC) shortly after that. (See ESDN: RAD Rolls Out Distributed NFV Strategy and RAD Preps NFV Demo at MWC.)
Since then, the notion of virtualizing functions first at the customer premises has caught on more broadly, as service providers have been attracted to the notion of replacing multiple discrete boxes, each of which needs upgrading and maintenance, with a more general piece of hardware that includes specialized software, which can be upgraded more easily and at lower cost.
"When they start deployment from the edge, the upfront investment can be minimized, and the complexity related to orchestration can be reduced, as it involves a single tenant, not a shared pool or resources," says Yuri Gittik, chief strategy officer at RAD.
Carriers such as CenturyLink (which was part of the PoC involving RAD), Colt, Telefónica and more are engaged in different approaches to using NFV at the customer premises. Colt deployed a pre-NFV solution, and Telefónica did an early deployment for one set of customers that is now becoming part of a broader pilot. All of that experience is feeding into an evolving view of what virtual CPE is and can become. (See Colt: NFV Can't Be Backward Step and Two Faces of Distributed NFV.)
Even so, the business case is not yet solid, Gittik admits. "There is greater understanding now than before, and it is becoming clearer," he tells Light Reading. "But I would not say it is solid."
What Distributed NFV has done, however, is given service providers a starting point -- a place where NFV can take hold based on incremental investment, and where network operators can "get their hands dirty" in seeing how to use virtualized network functions to benefit their customers, deliver services faster and, eventually, reduce their cost of operations, he says. (See NFV Gets Practical at BTE.)
RAD is investing heavily in NFV, having opened an R&D center and also announced its own vendor ecosystem -- something on which more news is expected soon. And the industry in general is going to have to invest heavily for NFV to have the broad impact many intend for it to have, because that will mean reshaping internal operations and changing many of the common ways of doing business today, Gittik notes. (See .)
"This is not just about the technology -- we are moving into the virtualized solution, and that requires changing of old organizations, which are organized very much as network-centric, service-centric silos," he says. To support NFV will require a carrier version of dev-ops, where different teams work in a more closely integrated fashion, he says.
Implementing that kind of change requires commitment from the top of the network operator organizations, which is what some service providers are getting, and that is enabling them to push ahead, even in the face of uncertainty on when there will be a solid return on investment. Because of the long-term potential for NFV to unleash new service possibilities, it's important to press ahead, Gittik states.
This week at the MEF event in Washington, DC, RAD is demonstrating different deployment options for virtual CPE, each of which represent an approach to addressing the "get-started" issues for NFV that the company sees as essential. An essential element in this "early days" thinking is recognizing the need to manage both virtual and physical network infrastructures together, so that the NFV infrastructure initially is a master extension to existing practices, either done manually or on a partially automated basis, with the plan of working toward fuller integration and automation.
"In the future, there will be more automation and programmability," Gittik says. But for now, the goal is to get started.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading