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As NFV Displaces Dedicated Network Functions, Who is Managing Service Levels?

by Juniper Employee on ‎09-07-2017 05:00 AM

As NFV gains mainstream production status across carriers and service providers worldwide, important facts about the realities of a software-defined network world are coming to light.

 

Service levels for network functions—more commonly referred to as “service assurance”—is a concept created in the days when network functions were anything but virtual. These network services were tied to physical devices, and that hardware was “assured” to deliver its assigned “services” at a specified up-time.

 

In NFV, those now-virtualized network functions—or VNFs—must still meet desired service targets in order for the network to support its assigned applications at expected levels.

 

Fortunately, this is not an entirely new challenge. We’ve seen this before in the early days of server virtualization, and the concepts learned there can be instructive. Application and infrastructure monitoring software was created to use log data, statistics and alarms to help data center operators isolate infrastructure problems and spin up new resources, hopefully before things got too hairy and started impacting the user experience.

 

Unfortunately for network operators, that’s where the usefulness of server monitoring software is limited. The latency embedded in monitoring tools used for server virtualization—often several minutes—is several orders of magnitude too slow to be of much use in network operations, where latencies of more than a few seconds can mean the difference between a VNF meeting its assigned service levels, or failing altogether.

 

To complicate matters further, this low tolerance for latency means that human intervention in the remediation loop can be a barrier to effective management. If a service degradation is detected, the time for a human to respond to an alarm might be too long to keep application performance from suffering. This is compounded in a 5G world, where IoT and edge cloud computing drive huge network traffic volumes and an increased sensitivity to latency. All of this means that what is needed is intent-driven automation, where the human defines the targets to be met and the general remediation strategies that the system will follow.

 

Also, consider how VNFs scale - horizontal scaling means that you need visibility into how performance varies as you roll out new network services and the ability to track latency changes as new resources are spun up. Having this insight helps operators maintain uptime and performance levels as they scale, smoothly adding new functions as application demand grows.

 

Let’s complicate this further. Operators might not know precisely where infrastructure supporting a specific set of VNFs is running. They might not even know what other services are running on specific nodes if the environment is shared.

 

Two things are needed to meet these challenges. First, we need monitoring designed to operate in a real-time world, and second we need to automate the remediation process when VNFs begin to fail.

 

Day 1 Becomes Day 2

The design and deployment of a virtualized network environment is a technical challenge, to be sure. But I believe the products and support available for this process have stabilized and matured such thatstanding up the environment is the smaller challenge businesses will face. The operational issues surrounding keeping the network services running at prescribed levels is the “day 2” challenge, and it’s not trivial.

 

What’s needed is monitoring software built for this reality. Smart people are working on tools to address this, including the Juniper Networks engineers working on our Appformix product.. Popular open source tools from the server virtualization world like Zabbix and Nagios rely on human-generated static pre-configuration. A newer generation of commercial tools like DataDog are designed with flexible schemas that allow for the applications to emit bits of OS-level performance information that are monitored, offering a first step towards automated outlier detection.

 

(For a description of how outlier and anomaly detection works, check out Homin Lee’s excellent presentation from OSCON last year.)

 

A tool that gives you real-time visibility into what your infrastructure and network services are delivering, however, is still pretty rare. Juniper Networks’ approach uses machine learning to get closer to this near-zero latency goal. We’re also leveraging Resource Director Technology (RDT) in the more recent Intel(r) Xeon(r) processor families to manage VNF workloads in the metal, extracting performance data from the processor instead of the management software. This shaves precious milliseconds off the latency problem.

 

What’s Your “Blast Radius?”

What’s important to keep in mind here is that the stakes are much higher than in the world of server virtualization. Problems at the application layer, almost by definition, impact only that application. When a network function fails or begins performing poorly—regardless of the reason—the “blast radius” of that failure can be catastrophically large, impacting a host of services and applications further up the stack.

 

In a 5G network, the volume of traffic and the number of connected devices can make a foundational network performance degradation catastrophic. All the more reason why you need to detect and remediate *much* faster than many tools created to monitor server virtualization can deliver.

 

Virtual Environments are Dynamic Environments

Both VNFs and the infrastructure they run on are constantly changing in these dynamic new network environments. Monitoring tools based on server virtualization technology that uses static thresholds are insufficient in this reality. Developers and operators need tools that understand the context of what’s happening in the applications and the infrastructure, from both bottom-up and top-down views, and those tools need to dynamically automate management of services in real-time.

 

Service assurance in a world of virtual network functions is a fundamentally different animal than when network functions were tied to dedicated hardware. What’s needed for success in this new world—especially as 5G looms on the horizon—is real-time monitoring where remedial action is automated based on rules optimized by machine learning, with operations personnel providing an oversight role.

 

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Sumeet Singh is Vice President of Engineering at Juniper Networks and the founder of AppFormix.

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  • Prior to Juniper acquisition, Ankur was the Founder and CEO of Contrail Systems Inc - a pioneer in standards based network virtualization and scale-out networking software. Ankur has over 15 years of experience in building world-class networking products and leading high performance teams. Prior to Contrail, Ankur served as Chief Technology Officer and VP of Engineering at Aruba Networks, where he played critical roles in the rapid expansion of team, products, and global businesses. Before Aruba, Ankur helped drive Juniper’s initial entry into and expansion of the Ethernet Switching market. Ankur received his MSEE from Stanford University & BSEE from the University of Southern California.
  • David Noguer Bau is the head of Telco Vertical Marketing at the SP Strategic Marketing team in Juniper Networks. He has extensive experience in Service Provider network evolution and regularly runs executive sessions with technical and marketing teams of important telecom operators to accelerate the adoption of virtualisation. David is based in Barcelona and has over 15 years of experience in the telecommunications sector. Prior joining Juniper Networks, Mr. Noguer Bau spent seven years at Nortel where he was a Business Development Manager specializing in Carrier Ethernet and Broadband areas. Before Nortel he worked at Eicon-Dialogic as Technical Manager in Spain. David has been the Country Marketing Chair at Metro Ethernet Forum for Spain. Mr. Noguer has wide experience speaking at international Conferences. He was graduated as Computer Engineer by Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB) and has an executive MBA from EADA Barcelona and executive education at the Thunderbird School of Global Management (Arizona) and the Henley Business School (UK). The views expressed here are my personal opinions , have not been reviewed or authorized by Juniper Networks and do not necessarily represent the views of Juniper Networks.
  • Donyel Jones-Williams is the Director of Service Provider Product Marketing Management overseeing all of Juniper's Service Provider Products for Juniper Networks. In this role, he leads all of the internal and external marketing activities for Juniper with respect to routing, automation, SDN and NFV. Prior to joining Juniper Networks in January 2014, Donyel was a Senior Product Line Manager for Cisco Systems with in the High End Optical Routing Group managing product lifecycle for multiple products lines helping telecom providers operate efficiently and effectively including; ONS 155xx Product Family, ONS 15216, ONS 15454 MSTP, Carrier Packet Transport Product Family, ME 2600x, & ASR 9000v. He also negotiated favorable agreements with 3rd-party vendors furnishing components and parts and conducted both outbound and inbound marketing (webinars, case study-development, developed and delivered both business & technical at Cisco Live 2005-2012). Donyel graduated from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. While attending Cal Poly SLO he was a collegiate student athlete playing football as a wide receiver and a key member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Donyel is now an active volunteer for V Foundation.
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  • I have been in the networking industry for over 35 years: PBXs, SNA, Muxes, ATM, routers, switches, optical - I've seen it all. Twelve years in the US, over 25 in Europe, at companies like AT&T, IBM, Bay Networks, Nortel Networks and Dimension Data. Since 2007 I have been at Juniper, focusing on solutions and services: solving business problems via products and projects. Our market is characterized by amazing technological innovations, but technology is no use if you cannot get it to work and keep it working. That is why services are so exciting: this is where the technology moves out of the glossy brochures and into the real world! Follow me on Twitter: @JoeAtJuniper For more about me, go to my LinkedIn profile: http://fr.linkedin.com/pub/joe-robertson/0/4a/34a
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  • VP of engineering, Juniper Networks & founder, AppFormix Entrepreneur and founder with successful exits from two networking startups. Sumeet holds more than 20 patents with technologies implemented in shipping products and has received numerous awards from organizations as diverse as MIT and Interop. His AppFormix team at Juniper Networks is shipping an automated, real-time monitoring environment that uses AI and machine learning to autonomously mitigate application and network function issues before they impact QoS or user experience.