Cloud Computing

The race to scale network virtualization through automation is accelerating

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Telcos, buckle up: The race to bring virtualized networks to scale is speeding up.

The idea of network function virtualization first emerged in 2012 as a way for telcos to meet rising demand for bandwidth, cut down costs, and speed up delivery of new services. But for the most part, implementations have been slow and modest in their scope.

That’s changing, said Ian Roy, Associate Partner for Network and OSS Transformation in IBM’s Telecom, Media & Entertainment Center of Competency. In the coming year, he said, NFV transformations will pick up speed in earnest.

“2018 is the year when it starts. Up to now it’s been pilots and proof of concept trials. This is the year they really start to do this at scale,” Roy said.

The signs of that acceleration in the industry are coming into focus. Early this year, Bell Canada implemented its first automation use case using the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP). Epsilon expects its core networks to be fully automated by the first quarter of the year. And AT&T is reportedly well on its way to reaching its goal of virtualizing 75 percent of its network by 2020.

“While widespread network automation is still early, expect service provider automation projects to ramp in 2018,” wrote FierceTelecom’s Sean Buckley.

Why this year? Quite simply, the market forces that inspired the idea for NFV in the first place have continued, raising the pressure on telcos to make big changes. Mobile data usage is exploding with the growth of over-the-top businesses like Uber and Netflix, while the revenue per megabyte of data has continued to shrink. In five years, mobile video usage will grow by 870%. In that environment, telcos simply cannot survive if they fail to create “living networks” that can think ahead and continually transform.

“They have a business imperative to figure out how it will work at scale,” Roy said.

Telcos have been virtualizing some network functions through software for years. But the only way to bring virtualized networks to scale—and fundamentally transform their business—is to automate operations by leveraging AI and cloud technology. To do that, they’ll also an operational model like IBM’s Agile Lifecycle Manager, which provides a comprehensive services design, testing and automated deployment platform to address the challenges and complexities of the NFV paradigm.

“The requirements for lifecycle management can overwhelm traditional business process automation. A new approach across multiple domains of orchestration and resource management is required to enable consistent performance for emerging cloud native services at scale,” wrote IBM’s Denis Murphy.

The need for quicker time to market for new services, improved customer experience and capital expense reduction are evergreen for telcos. But today, said Rich Michos, IBM’s Global & North America Marketing Director for the Telco, Media & Entertainment industry, “those forces are converging right now and creating a burning issue for telcos.” The imperative for action has never been stronger.

Want to learn more about network virtualization? Steve Teitzel will be delivering the keynote address at the NFV Technology Forum at Layer 123 on April 25.

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