NFV – The Most Effective Roadmap Is To Start Now

Mobile operators should start investing in Network Function Virtualisation for an easy path towards SDN, says Skyfire CEO Nitin Bhandari

Mobile operators are aware that the software-defined network architectures that they currently dream of may be several years away from implementation. However, steps toward virtualizing key services on their networks can be achieved right now.

In this article Nitin Bhandari, CEO of Skyfire and SVP of Products and Operator Solutions at Opera Software, breaks the mobile network down into its key components and discusses where Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) makes sense now, and which functions – from Voice over LTE to mobile video optimization – might be implemented in the near term.

The road to SDN

A modern mobile network comprises a startling array of components, from data centers and servers through to radio masts. However, only a fraction of the network can be virtualized. The number of elements, and the scale of the network, makes it challenging for operators to conceive where they might start the journey to NFV. Although a complex decision, the encouraging news is that there are some areas of the network that are more predisposed to virtualization than others. In particular, optimizing mobile video traffic is an ideal place to begin the first step towards NFV.

Mobile Tower (c) Kathathep, Shutterstock 2013The technology can deliver a 60 percent boost in bandwidth capacity while preserving the highest visual quality. Other features include experience assurance, which allows operators to measure, quantify and mitigate congestion in real-time, without the need to install legacy inline appliance hardware or RAN probes in the network. It can also instant optimize capacity, or ‘burst’ it, to mitigate for any planned, or unplanned, spikes in video traffic moving across the network.

Operators can overlay this technology on their existing inline appliance hardware used for optimization. It works on hypervisors in an open environment. By constantly monitoring network resources, it is able to make intelligent decisions across different servers on whether or not to send video and other data traffic to the cloud for optimization.

This cloud-based approach also represents a low-risk path to achieving virtualization – as it leverages elements of NFV and prepares for the evolution to Software Defined Networking (SDN). Cloud-based mobile video optimization can leverage SDN to define traffic routing and network functions on commodity hardware servers.

Meanwhile SDN’s programmable routers can identify and route large video, streaming audio and image traffic to the cloud for optimization and successful and instantaneous delivery.

NFV is not only about flexibility, it is also about cost reduction and enabling the ‘democratization’ of service offerings. Cloud-based mobile video optimization can support different optimization policies for different customer types and allow for “boutique” services to some of them – for example, MVNOs or enterprises.

Virtualization and the cloud means these types of services are not linked to where a customer physically is in the network. It allows an operator to experiment with services for segmented customer bases, rather than trying to deploy the same standard services to everyone on the network.

Initially, operators can prove the viability of individual virtualized functions now, such as the traditional in-network function of data and media optimization and traffic shaping. Rather than agonizing over the complex decision of which areas of the mobile network are best suited for NFV and SDN – this technology can represent that all-important first step in implementing robust, cost-saving, capacity-boosting services in an NFV architecture.

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