The march towards Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is well underway, with a majority of service providers in some stage of evaluating or deploying virtualized network functions which were traditionally delivered with dedicated hardware appliances. The full potential for NFV will take many years to materialize, but service providers have certainly warmed up to the virtues of delivering network functions on general purpose hardware infrastructure. While the initial chatter promoting NFV promised cost savings as the primary benefit, service providers now believe that topline revenue growth is the key driver for NFV deployments. NFV offers service providers AGILITY that traditional deployments models which relied on deploying dedicated hardware for specific functions did not. Service Providers can roll out new services at the pace of software development cycles, unhinged by the pace of evolution of the underlying hardware, thus speeding up customer acquisition. NFV based services offer the agility to turn up (and turn down if needed) services with a few clicks and make the service available in new locations quickly, without having to deploy new hardware in remote sites.
The agility offered by NFV enables Service Providers to accelerate revenue recognition for existing network service offerings and also opens the door wide open for monetizing with new business models. These are outlined below:
Virtualization of existing network functions: Probably the foremost driver for Telco Cloud today is the virtualization of network services that Service Providers are offering their customers today. These include network services like vPE, vBNG, vOLT, vEPC (MME etc.), vIMS and many others. Virtualization lowers the total cost of ownership by allowing the flexible usage of network functions on a general purpose hardware pool. For example a service provider providing mobility services can take advantage of the fact that individual mobility functions (MME, PGW etc.) do not require peak services at the same time and does not have to lay out special purpose network infrastructure to handle the peak for each function. Moreover the elastic nature of a virtualized service allows service providers to turn up services instantly as new customers get acquired, thus accelerating the book to bill cycle.
NFV Infrastructure as a Service (NFVIaaS): Service Providers can offer their infrastructure comprising of compute, networking and storage resources as a service to other service providers delivering NFV services to their customers. Only a few service providers have a global footprint of physical infrastructure residing close to the customer and NFVIaaS offers them the opportunity to monetize this footprint. Certain NFV applications demand proximity to the customer. For example certain mobility functions require customer proximity to operate within latency boundaries and to maintain the customer experience. Another example – CDN’s offer cached content close to the customer to improve the customer experience. Service Providers who consume NFVIaas would see this as an enticing alternative to building their own infrastructure and quickly launching services in new areas – essentially being able to provide services where their customers demand it.
Virtual Network Function as a Service (VNFaaS): Enterprises deploy network functions like DPI, Firewall, and WAN Optimization etc. on dedicated hardware appliances in their branch locations. The deployment and operation of special purpose hardware is both CAPEX and OPEX intensive. NFV enables these services delivered via Virtual Network Functions (VNF’s) to be deployed on general purpose computing infrastructure, enabling enterprises to quickly turn up services while lowering costs. While this general purpose compute can be deployed on the customer premise itself (Example - NFX250), Service Providers can offer to host these network functions in the cloud offering a virtual CPE (Customer Premise Equipment).
Virtual Network Platform as a Service (VNPaaS): In this model, service providers provide enterprises with the physical infrastructure plus a software toolkit that enables enterprises to innovate and deliver network services on top of the platform. This model is similar to the VNFaaS model but offers a greater level of flexibility to enterprises to customize the service.
These models of service delivery described above are analogous to the IaaS, SaaS and PaaS delivery models that cloud providers have been providing customers for years. While delivery of NFV services in a Telco Cloud places certain new demands from the network (proximity to customer, MEF services etc.), the basic building blocks required of the network infrastructure to deliver NFV based services are identical to the building blocks used by cloud providers to deliver their cloud services.
Deploying a Telco Cloud requires a 360 degree consideration of the service which encompasses the following:
Virtual Network Functions – The VNF’s actually providing the service.
NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) – The layer that provides the compute resources, storage resources and the cloud network fabric that provides connectivity between the VNF and the customers and between the VNF’s themselves (for service chaining).
Orchestration and Controller Layer – The layer responsible for managing and orchestrating the end to end service. This layer captures customer intent (via a self-serve portal), launches the VNF’s (service chain them where needed) and configures the network.
While each layer plays a critical role; in my subsequent series of blogs I will focus on the network infrastructure layer for the Telco Cloud. The QFX portfolio of data center switches, comprising of the QFX10K family of spine switches and the QFX5K family of leaf switches, provides the network fabric that powers 100’s of cloud data centers worldwide and is ideally suited to provide the network fabric for Telco clouds
In my subsequent blogs, I will dive into the building blocks for the network layer (here) and detail the capabilities of the QFX portfolio that make it a perfect fit for building a Telco Cloud.
For more information on Juniper QFX Series Switches, click here.
For more information on ETSI requirements for Network Infrastructure, click here.
For more information on NFV use cases defined by ETSI, click here.