U.S. wireless operator deploys NFV in production

NFV is gaining momentum as evidenced by the production implementation of a virtual policy manager at a Tier 1 North American wireless operator.  On Oct. 29, 2013, Openet announced deployment of its virtual software running on standard platforms across multiple data centers at this operator. Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is a critical part of this service provider’s plans to deliver new network-based applications and reduce operational costs.  NFV will be implemented in a phased approach to ease migration challenges and maintain service reliability.

What is NFV?

In the fall of 2012, a number of the largest communications service providers (CSPs) initiated an effort (in ETSI) to dramatically increase the use of virtualization and commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology in their telecommunications networks. In the fall of 2013, a larger group of 50+ CSPs and industry suppliers introduced a number of specifications to guide NFV adoption. Telecom infrastructure has long been a bastion of proprietary software running on purpose built hardware.  The proponents of NFV hope to leverage IT technologies, including virtualization, standard servers, and open software to fundamentally change the way networks are built and operated. The key benefits that CSPs will derive from NFV implementation include faster time to market, enablement of new services, ability to rapidly scale resources up and down, and lower costs (both CAPEX and OPEX).

Challenges of virtualization

Software applications must be specifically designed or rewritten to run optimally in virtualized data center environments.  In addition, telecom network systems must:

  • Be highly reliable (99.999 uptime)
  • Offer extremely high performance
  • Support low latency
  • Scale to support hundreds of millions of users

The performance testing and tuning of network applications in a virtual data center stack (e.g. OpenStack or VMware) is an important and challenging step in NFV deployments.

NFV implementation at the Tier 1 wireless operator

Openet specifically built a new software version of its policy manager to support virtualization.  One of the key challenges was to migrate customers to the new, virtual system “in service” – meaning no downtime or disruption to its wireless customers.  The wireless operator gains the benefit of scalability (ability to add new capacity by adding VMs) and high performance (the implementation supports more than one million transactions per second).  Over time, the wireless operator hopes the use of NFV and COTS will:

  • Significantly improve its service agility
  • Provide flexibility in system design by eliminating physical (server) constraints with regards to software deployment
  • Allow for elastic scaling of capacity via cloud data center resources
  • Reduce the operational (OPEX) costs of running its network

Conclusions

NFV represents a very important set of virtual technologies that will transform the telecommunications network.  NFV implementations will proceed gradually over time as leading CSPs test a variety of use case scenarios.  Leading SPs are likely to evolve to NFV in a phased approach.  The successful implementation of policy management by Openet at a Tier 1 wireless operator represents an important step in the validation of NFV.