Policy + charging

Can Virtualization Succeed Where IMS Didn't?

If you've been around the telecom community as long as I have, it's almost impossible not to view the current virtualization trends -- software-defined networking and networks function virtualization -- through the cynical lens of "been there, done that."

After all, one could argue that the intelligent network and advanced intelligent network initiatives of the 1980s and 1990s had many of the same goals: creating more standard systems to end the dependence on vendor-proprietary switches and enable faster delivery of new services. And certainly the IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) directives of the last decade went down much the same path without accomplishing its ultimate goals.

In our kickoff Light Reading University class, SDN, NFV, and Policy Control: Fitting it All Together (registration required), Heavy Reading chief analyst Graham Finnie discusses the similarities between IMS and SDN/NFV from the context of policy management, a concept born of the 3GPP's IMS work.

"There are quite strong parallels between this architecture and the 3GPP IMS modular architecture from which policy control originally sprang," Finnie says. "It has the same basic three layers, although IMS didn't countenance the abstraction of routing protocols that SDN does."

The IMS architecture intended to create a northbound layer that would make it easier for network operators to build relationships between applications developers and other third-party content companies, to add value to the network services. That didn't come to pass, Finnie says, but it could still happen if virtualization succeeds as planned. "In theory, the fact that [the telecom industry] is already down that path ought to make it easier" to move to virtualization, especially in the control layer.

But IMS -- and the programs that came before it -- also offer a cautionary tale, in Finnie's book, because they show what can happen when ambitious programs run into "the sands of internal telco inertia."

This is one of many insights contained in the dynamic debut of Light Reading University, which can be viewed in our course archive. In a 35-minute presentation that opens the session, Finnie drills down on the details of virtualization in policy management, sharing these and other insights.

  • As service providers have shifted from using policy for congestion management to using it to develop new services, they've faced challenges with the lack of integration of policy in IT and back-office systems. Virtualization could address aspects of this critical challenge.
  • A policy controller could act as a controllers' controller, instructing SDN controllers on things like traffic flows and giving SDN controllers insight into subscriber data.
  • Virtualization could also address the complexity issues that have plagued policy management architectures.

Finnie has a lot more to say that is worth hearing. If you don't have a clear understanding of the core SDN and NFV issues and trends, this is a great place to start. It's still possible to attend LRU. You can check out this and other offerings here.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

brookseven 12/20/2013 | 3:30:17 PM
Re: Does succeed already! okay sent you an email with my contact. I don't really bite. seven
Carol Wilson 12/20/2013 | 2:02:49 PM
Re: Does succeed already! Actually that would be cool -- walking through the whole process. Just let me dig out from under the stuff I have to get done before the holidays....
brookseven 12/20/2013 | 2:01:15 PM
Re: Does succeed already!  


The knitting is done on the web side via DNS.  The problem is when you deal with non-web services to create a DNS-like function.

So, when I have said this in the past maybe it is better understandable now?  To make an application effective on top of a virtualized infrastructure does not mean that it can now run in a VM.

If you want sometime, I will walk you through the complexities of what we did to build something as simple as a mail filter.  And I don't mean the mail filter part, I mean the whole provisioning and publishing services part.


Carol Wilson 12/20/2013 | 1:57:06 PM
Re: Does succeed already! It seems what the telecom industry is facing is that virtualizing functions is easy (realatively) but knitting together virtualized functions into services that can be delivered on-demand and cost competitively is a very different issue. 

And they were already struggling with how to make use of all the policy management options. 
brookseven 12/20/2013 | 1:38:26 PM
Does succeed already! Carol,

So NFV already exists and is used on the IT side of business.  As I said, I ran a Spam Filtering company and I know Mail Servers are done this way as well.  There are LOTS of other functions (heck we used Virtualized Load Balancers).

I think the issue really is what range of services can it be used in.  My personal view is NFV is valuable when processing happens.  I see no way that a core router gets Virtualized.  But if your function can run on a COTS computer and provide some level of effectiveness, then it might be virtualized.

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