Virtualization Challenge for Communication Service Provider

Telecommunication providers need to learn how services can be developed more flexible and agile than ever before in order to seize the opportunity of digitization. The technological foundation for this change is formed by Virtualization: Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN). But the real challenge is yet to come.

The way we communicate, be it privately or professionally, has changed significantly in the last few years – and yet most people are very familiar with using internet services, apps and mobile devices on a daily basis. However, we are only at the beginning of a profound change which is caused by digitization. It will change our daily life radically once digitization transitions deep into our personal and professional activities.
Especially Communication Service Providers (CSP) can sense this transformation and all the changes that come with it. The agility that so-called „Over-the-Top“ providers like Netflix and Hulu or Internet Pure Players display when launching new service offers, puts pressure on traditional telecommunication providers and forces them to adjust. At the same time new requirements for universal communication possibilities and thus SLA demands, that cannot be fulfilled with today’s services and applications, emerge in a number of industries. This opens new business opportunities that need to be addressed.

“Besides the technological aspects of NFV and SDN, we need to find the answer to a more important question: What impact will virtualization have on business operations?”

Virtualization is the technological foundation to initiate this change. The two key concepts in this context are on one hand Network Function Virtualization (NFV), which enables the virtualization of network functions, and on the other hand Software-Defined-Networking (SDN) which allows a more efficient control and configuration of networks.
The most important benefit that communication service providers want to achieve by introducing these technologies is the dynamic sampling and creation of agility during the entire service lifecycle. Thus, they can develop new services and bring them to the market much faster in order to quickly respond to customer needs, market developments and competitors.
The technological aspects of NFV and SDN previously stood in the focus of discussions, while the most important questions remained unanswered: What impact will virtualization have on business operations? Therefore, communication service providers face the challenge to determine how these technologies have to be operationally rolled out and managed in future. In this context, we speak about the “Operations Center of the Future”.

Virtualizing network functions in order to shift those from the network to a data center (and thus into a Cloud) causes significant changes in operations. Since this virtualization of network functions is done gradually over an extended period of time, the operational challenge lies in comprehensively (end-to-end) managing and configuring a hybrid formation of “traditional” network and virtual resources. Thus the created products and services consequently will contain more and more “traditional” and virtual components as well as components of a partner ecosystem.

Comprehensive Organizational Approach is the Key

The traditional operation of a service provider’s telecommunication network for example takes place on basis of OSS/BSS solutions in a respective organizational unit. IT operations and facility management in a data center are separated – and all operational issues in these three areas are handled separately. But the introduction of NFV causes the virtualization of network functions, which need server capacities in a facility that is managed by IT operations. These servers are located in the data centers and are attached to the respective capacity planning of the data center operations. From a service standpoint, each operational unit will contribute its share for an overall product. That is why the task for communication service provider is to bridge the gap between the operational silos and enable a consistent view of the used resources. This applies to both the service fulfillment and service assurance processes as well as the planning of network and data center capacities.

Silo Mentality Slows Down Transformation

One of the main reasons that hinder the introduction of NFV are, besides the lack of orchestration between the Operations Support System (OSS), Business Support System (BSS) and IT Operation, the operational boundaries between the three operational silos. Additionally, the lack of transparency regarding the hybrid structure of traditional network resources, virtualized resources and data center capacity is another main cause why impact analysis or trouble shooting cannot be performed – but which is essential to be successful in the Virtualization Challenge!

But the technological transformation is only a small piece of this challenge. The tougher task will be the transformation in mentality. In order to develop new services flexible and DevOps-oriented, one has to be willing to accept setbacks. However, failures, for example introducing “unsuccessful” services, are not accepted as part of standard procedures in many companies. Additionally, services that are now implemented on basis of standard components will no longer be able to carry the respective communication service provider’s imprint. Accepting this makes a change in mentality also necessary.

Whether organizational barriers between existing silos can be torn down depends on the ability of an organization to change, its cultural environment as well as its history. Technologically the gap between the various silos can be closed when network and service resources are managed cross-functionally, which includes both the “traditional” telecommunication resources and the virtualized IT resources as well as the existing data center capacities. A consistent data model that lays the ideal foundation for upcoming operational challenges that the “Operations Center of the Future” faces due to the digitization and virtualization, is definitely crucial.