In advance of Carrier Network Virtualization, taking place on 9-11 December 2013 in Palo Alto, California, we caught up with Francisco-Javier Ramón Salguero, Head of Network Virtualization, Telefonica GCTO, Spain, and Chair of the PER Expert Group, ETSI NFV ISG, to find out his thoughts on the growth of SDN and NFV and Telefonica’s plans for the future….
Francisco-Javier, welcome. What are you most looking forward to about Informa’s Carrier Network Virtualization event?
FJRS: “This event is an excellent opportunity to share views with Industry and with other telcos and to know their first experiences and key progresses.”
Why is the idea of SDN and NFV suddenly taking off now? Why all the fuss?
FJRS: “The need for building a “future-proof network”, built to support a long-term strategic vision and flexible enough to allow for changing requirements, is a common wish for Telco operators.
“The digital world requires both flexibility and agility, and SDN and NFV hold the potential to transform telco networks substantially in this way for the better. This is the reason why the idea of SDN and NFV are being so popular today. Both of them are ideas that telcos have been waiting for a long time.”
Whereabouts in telco networks do you see that SDN and NFV will be of the greatest benefit? Where will we see the first deployments?”
FJRS: “The application of network virtualization can address two fronts. On the one hand, matching with other industry players in those environments where virtualization technologies are already part of the state of the art. Two examples are using SDN technology in telco data centers and using network functions virtualization in those functions intensively associated with the control plane. Network functions that could be first virtualized are those most associated with network intelligence and service platforms (eg IMS, SDP, DNS, UDB, etc.), as they are essentially datacenter-like workloads in our current networks.
“On the other hand, Telco Industry can act as a leader, using virtualization technologies to develop use cases on favourable terms from our competitors. This requires the ability to virtualise network functions that can deal also with the data plane, which is one of our peculiarities (in the end of the day, operator’s business is often based in transporting information). These network features are those normally associated with the IP Edge and the point of presence in general (BRAS, GGSN , SBC , P-GW , etc).”
Are there still any major hurdles you see which SDN and NFV have to conquer before adoption can become widespread? If so, what are they and how should they be resolved?
FJRS: “One of the major challenges of Network Virtualisation (SDN + NFV) is precisely to free the network of the rigidity imposed by physical infrastructure. To achieve this, the idea through NFV is to define a common layer of general-purpose hardware which is ready to support network functions completely defined by software.
“Once a network functionality can be completely defined by software, it is possible to use virtualisation technologies for packaging each network function in one or more virtual machines and decide in which server deploy them.
“However, as simple as it sounds, it is far from being a trivial process. Not everything looks alike to the traditional cloud computing. Allocation of hardware resources for a virtual machine needs to be more careful to assure a high and predictable performance. The challenge of this innovation is just this, to be able to maintain the performance when network functions are purely software. Currently, a number of advances in general-purpose hardware have increased by an order of magnitude the performance, so this is something feasible but still needs to be matured.”
What kind of timescale are we looking at until SDN and NFV become more commonplace in carrier networks across the world?
FJRS: “Only a few companies have commercial products which allow conceive specific parts of the network using these technologies. Almost all the equipment manufacturers are still at testing phases, announcing that NFV products will be launched soon.
“As it stands at the moment, SDN is already something real, implemented and deployed in the world of the major OTTs (like Google), while the Telcos are some way behind. Meanwhile, NFV developments, which arrived on the scene more recently, are still in a pre-commercial phase, with the first rollouts expected sometime 2014.
“Another challenge is that the operators already have a huge number of traditional nodes deployed which are will not be replaced by “commoditised” hardware overnight. That is why consideration is being given to hybrid models, which virtualise some network elements and incorporate the advantages of SDN to improve management. All this transformation is a process that will take years.”
What are your own company’s plans for deploying SDN and NFV?
FJRS: “At this moment, we are working in a trial in Brazil to virtualise part of the equipment installed at customer premises (router, cable TV decoder, etc.), in a concept that we call vCPE (virtualised Customer Premises Equipment). This trial is the result of a prototype developed by Telefónica I+D, with contributions and integration by NEC. The solution makes possible that higher layers functions can be shifted from the client premises to the operator’s network.
“We expect this pilot experience will help us prove the viability of this technology and enable us to implement rollouts in a more flexible and reliable way, obtaining low operating costs.”
What do you expect will be the defining trends within the industry in 2014?
FJRS: “There are numerous experiences being carried out both in the SDN field and in NFV in European, Asian and North American operators. However, it is still unclear when these operators will feel ready to deploy them massively in their network and what are the kind of investments they will need to make. What is clear is the need to work together in the industry (telcos and manufacturers) to define the specific requirements of the networks to ensure that these technologies provide the adequate maturity to support commercial rollouts.
“Manufacturers and telcos alike agree on the need to have a network which is much more flexible and mouldable, and which can be controlled as a whole. Major rollouts are expected to begin in 2015 and 2016, although it is very likely that the first rollouts will be seen sometime in 2014.”
Francisco-Javier will be speaking more about Telefonica’s plans for SDN and NFV on Wednesday morning as part of Carrier Network Virtualization in Palo Alto, California, 9-11 December 2013.