The virtualization trend is very evident and widely discussed within Enterprise and cloud data centers. Traditional wireless and wireline operators are adopting virtualization to stay competitive against OTT service providers like Google. Service Providers have started to use subscriber and application information to provide a rich user experience and at the same time create new revenue opportunities, like working with content providers for a richer experience. They have done it by virtualizing the Gi-LAN services and EPC, IMS Core in a very cost-effective and automated way using SDN and NFV technologies.
With that said, one of the segments where not much attention has been paid so far is the access & aggregation part of the service providers network but that has begun to change. The access & aggregation space has been very diverse in speeds, feeds and services due to the nature of the network as it supports residential access, business access and mobility access.
One of main drivers for the innovation in the access & aggregation segment is mobility due to the ever-increasing appetite for faster & better content and also change in the mobile technology like LTE & 5G. Specific to the area of enabling services closer to the edge, ETSI has formed a new ISG called “Mobile Edge Computing” that has defined an architecture that allows for a set of Services to be enabled closer to the edge. More information about the ETSI MEC group can be found here.
The technology and business drivers for the adoption of SDN & NFV in the access & aggregation are different than a typical large data center. Access & aggregation networks have been built in the past using legacy technology like TDM & ATM and usually point-to-point connections are good enough for 2G/3G. But in the last few years, this has been changing due to the deployment of 4G/LTE and the adoption of powerful smartphones that deliver rich content. This has been putting pressure on service providers to optimize their RAN and backhaul network. This is where SDN & NFV is going to add tremendous value for the following reasons:
To deliver connectivity options other than point-to-point by using NFV that may not be possible due to the nature of the backhaul network
To make access & aggregation networks more service rich instead of just providing connectivity
To bring content closer to the user by using content caching
To enable traffic optimization schemes like TCP optimizer to conserve RAN bandwidth and at the same time deliver good user experience
To bring network automation and visibility
To enable new deployment model like front-haul & cloud RAN
While Juniper is a key player in the IP/Routing domain, we recently announced the availability of a virtualized version of our MX Router software called Virtual MX (vMX) that can run on Bare Metal or as a VNF on a x86 server running Linux OS. This enables service providers to build virtualized solutions in the access and aggregation domain. Specific to the Access, Juniper is looking to extend the concept of Virtual CPE and Universal CPE and apply it to the CSR and Pre-Aggregation routers that would give service providers flexibility in designing a custom solution in a fully automated way.
The virtualization trend in the access & aggregation is in a nebulous stage and I am sure it will evolve over the time as new technologies and use-cases reshape this part of the network.