NFV is like a newborn baby! Having recently come into the world, it is still getting its bearings and it is experiencing teething problems. Having worked first-hand on NFV pilots, deployments and trials there are similarities that operators face in terms of the challenges and problems. Here are six lessons, and in some cases warnings, for carriers who are looking to deploy NFV or are on the road to deploying the technology.
#1: Contradictory financial decisions
The primary ambition for NFV is cost-cutting and this directive tends to comes from the C-suite. However some network providers make confusing and often contradictory decisions on funding their NFV programs. This uncertainty can have an adverse impact on frontline engineers at the mobile operator. For example, 80-90% of operator NFV budgets are CAPEX. This skews the very business model of cloud which is primarily OPEX. This is a shift from traditional ways that operators have done business and it can distort the monetary benefits NFV can deliver, making them harder to grasp. Address this sooner rather than later.
#2: Handing over the NFV keys to large vendors
There’s no hiding from the fact that NFV is complex. This complexity can put off operators. To make NFV development manageable, most carriers have turned to external vendors to build out their NFV architecture. Development of NFV orchestration is being outsourced to large OSS vendors. As carriers hand over the keys to their networks, they are inadvertently forgoing one of the most crucial benefits of NFV – flexibility.
#3: Watch out for lock-ins and silos
Handing over the NFV keys is leading to silos and lock-ins. This is a shame as operators are ironically moving quickly to the exact situation they are trying to escape from! Examples of NFV silos include vGiLAN and Virtualized IP Multimedia Subsystems (vIMS). Operators will need to be mindful of this pitfall when engaging with vendors and keep their eyes on the prize to ensure that their NFV architecture becomes a true homogeneous platform across all network silos.
#4: Agility and innovation: collateral causalities?
Worryingly, agility and innovation sometimes no longer priorities for operators who are deploying NFV. Yes, NFV’s primary driver is cost-cutting, however there’s no reason to downplay agility and innovation. Operators such as T-Mobile in the US and Reliance Jio in India have shown how bold innovative plans can shake up the market and delight subscribers. It has left competitors reeling. It is easy to see why many operators don’t extend their thinking beyond providing operational NFV excellence. However, with NFV’s potential to radically alter an operator’s service agility, we would encourage operators to keep this at the forefront of their minds. Operators should not overlook their potential for disruption.
#5: Championing NFV needs to come from the top
To maximize the benefits NFV can deliver, there needs to be C-Level agreement at the operator. The industry has witnessed effective leadership for example from AT&T’s Chief Strategy Officer, John Donovan on NFV. This helped AT&T prevent the silos traps that other operators have faced. This is not to say that everything has been smooth sailing at AT&T as teething problems are inevitable with any early adoption of NFV. However, senior management buy-in for a transformational technology like NFV can deliver more benefits than just operational efficiencies. It is priceless.
#6: VNFs provide a taste of NFV ROI
Mobile video is growing at a phenomenal rate. According to Cisco, mobile video will increase 9-fold and account for 78 percent of total mobile data traffic in a few years. Video traffic management has been a significant and positive Virtual Network Functions (VNF) use case for operators assessing their Return on Investment (ROI) for NFV. A Middle East operator who recently deployed a traffic management VNF on a full NFV platform reduced video stalling by over 30 percent. That’s good news for operators who want to see a clear link between ROI and QoE!
Stress free to the clouds
Is the move to NFV stress-free? It can be, but some operators have experienced more turbulence that others - not to mention the teething issues discussed above. Operators are taking baby steps with NFV and naturally there are bumps. With clear leadership and agile processes operators can avoid throwing the NFV baby out with the bathwater.
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