Many service providers are at the stage of moving software-defined networking/network functions virtualization (SDN/NFV) out of smaller trials and into large-scale production networks, but SDN silos and dynamic services will run counter to one another. The now disparate domains will need to be synchronized and coordinated; otherwise, they’ll be mired in a two-speed architecture that doesn’t actually function well.
For operators investing in any new network, and especially virtualized networks, there are four major challenges that arise from disparately managed network principles:
1. Operating networks in silos (as opposed to a broad industry ecosystem) undermines service providers’ ability to compete
Let’s remember the customer in the equation: Customers don’t care about network or domain distinctions. They care about their service experience, and their expectations are rising fast.
Business customers want self-serve access to network and service configurations, on-demand application performance, and the ability to scale up and tear down network resources on an as-needed basis. Consumers want multiple service bundle options, the ability to see visible discounts when combining high-value services, minimal service issues during consumption and easy billing.
Networks that don’t enable these service characteristics in a synchronized way among layers and across domains ultimately will not meet evolving expectations. If service providers don’t step up to the challenge, their native digital competitors most certainly will.
2. Engineering traffic using an offline model won’t suffice in a dynamic service environment
Most traffic engineering is still conducted offline and after the fact. Historical models are studied and this information is fed back into the network in the form of changes to configurations, thresholds and resource availability on a periodic basis.
With connected car companies and users of IoT device networks pushing out software updates and configuration changes as soon as they are available, it becomes very difficult to predict when resource demand will spike. Similarly, as large enterprises base mission-critical processes more on API-driven applications and multiparty, real-time exchanges of data, images and video, resource demand will grow exponentially, sometimes within hours.
Traffic management needs to occur in near real-time because unpredictable traffic spikes and shifts must be accommodated and network resources need to be readily available and optimized
3. When network management is not centralized, service providers can’t visualize, optimize and automate
The three-legged stool of network management is made up of visualization, optimization and automation. None of these can be achieved while running disparate SDN domains without centralized, end-to-end network management.
Without a single view of the network, substantially more effort is expended within network operation centers to resolve customer-facing problems and automating path restoration cannot be implemented from end-to-end.
Similarly, static provisioning continues to persist, which is unsuitable for a dynamic service environment. Without end-to-end visibility, dynamic provisioning and automated restoration, service providers end up over-provisioning capacity by 30 to 50 percent, meaning SDN’s optimization goals aren’t achieved.
Finally, service providers can’t automate service assurance. They struggle to offer – much less support – the robust SLAs enterprises require to support their real-time, API-driven business applications. This means service providers must adapt to compete for that high-value business.
4. Make sure the entire organization is aligned around existing and new services
Avoiding network and technology pitfalls is critical to market leadership, but it’s not just about the network. An operator cannot operate a new network and service portfolio properly without all resources aligned around a common goal.
Today’s operators need to implement organizational change and leadership management at an early stage. Doing this may require a two-speed organization strategy that maps to the two-speed architecture now in place. It’s advisable to create a comprehensive organizational and talent review to fully utilize SDN/NFV network technology investments together with the introduction of agile, DevOps-style service creation and testing processes spanning across architecture, development and operations for network and IT.
Network operators must be ready to evolve in order to manage network and IT systems from multiple vendors in a single end-to-end platform. And, they should be ready to unite legacy and virtualized infrastructure under a centralized management strategy that ensures automated (and effective) configuration and orchestration of new services. Leading via this example will ensure that the customer’s experience with those services is seamless at every touchpoint.