By Stephanie Gibbons, Principal Analyst, Network Infrastructure and Software, Ovum Consulting
The current changes in networking, born from virtualization and abstraction of compute and cloud resources, greatly benefit communications service providers (CSPs). But they also mean major upheaval from the traditional, siloed way of building network infrastructure and management platforms. Introducing new software-based platforms and applications adds to the complexity of delivering services to telecoms customers. To deliver service agility in today's hybrid networking environment, a new level of service assurance must be included in network design principles: it must be cloud based and automated, include analytics, and be monitored in real time over open platforms.
Service assurance needs to evolve for hybrid networks
The complexity of the network operating environment increases as SDN/NFV deployments are more tightly integrated into the network, so CSPs can no longer treat NFV deployments as siloed software integrations. CSPs will be required to manage, orchestrate, and assure services delivered over physical and virtual network functions sourced from multiple vendors; therefore, any service assurance solution will need to be cross domain (i.e. able to support both the physical and virtual networking environments).
With dynamic service and network configuration taking place within a complex operating environment, identifying where faults or performance issues originate will be one of the biggest challenges for CSPs. Service assurance platforms will need to be intelligent enough to identify if a fault is at the virtual network function (VNF), physical network function (PNF), or cloud infrastructure level if they are to assure the reliability and quality of services in a hybrid environment. End-to-end service management will be crucial in this context, especially as CSPs aspire to the real networking end game: closed-loop automation. This will require real-time capabilities, tighter integration with other elements in the stack, more reliable inventory information, an increased role for analytics and security, and a more policy-driven approach.
The evolving service assurance opportunity is generating significant interest, attracting vendors with network or telco IT backgrounds, as well as those with analytics and automation capabilities. Although vendors may be lining up to provide support with next-generation service assurance, it will not be enough just to deliver on the capabilities already mentioned above; it will be crucial to come to market with offerings that can deal with the increasing complexity of the partnership ecosystem. This will require service assurance solutions that are not just well integrated with other systems but able to deal with the wide variety of proprietary and open source standards and embrace open APIs.
This virtualization of everything above physical transport significantly increases network service assurance complexity; and with this complexity comes CSPs' fear of performance issues and service disruption. If CSPs partner to rearchitect their service assurance systems for a hybrid NFV environment, they will not only lower network operating costs, but will also meet the growing customer demand for on-demand service delivery – the key to the new revenue potential from NFV-based services.
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