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Don’t Fear Network Function Virtualization

For today’s mobile network operators the concept of network functions virtualization (NFV) is fast moving from a nice-to-consider into a must-adopt architecture.

Operators need to consider NFV as a means to meet customer’s expectations of innovative new features, reach a broader customer base independent of platform and ultimately be more competitive. Still, it’s not as easy as declaring your network functions will henceforth be virtualized and making it so. Early trials have proven that NFV is very complex and some key elements are necessary.

Ultimately timelines for deployment of NFV—like that of software-defined networks (SDN)—are very tight. Industry watchers are saying that over the next five to 10 years NFV deployment will determine whether operators succeed. There’s no question it must be adopted.

I’ve witnessed as the desire to adopt NFV has become more aggressive, but at the same time network operators have much uncertainty around the technology. Standards continue to evolve and operators continue to learn, as have we. We’ve been closely following the evolving technology through our work with global operators and found overcoming the challenges posed by NFV demand powerful testing solutions to ensure quality consistent with physical network functions and end-to-end management and orchestration.

In particular, two of the most important applications of NFV—the virtualizing of EPC (evolved packet core) and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem)—demand especially high and predictable performance and stable, seamless interconnection between virtual and physical networks.

Operators deploying NFV, obviously, must do so mindful of the strict real-time, mission-critical services that mirror the highly-reliable uptime (99.999 per cent) and predictable performance experienced in the physical network. A few of these factors include:

  • Consistent ultra-low latency;
  • Consistent line-rate throughput;
  • Rapid packet handling (capable of switching a larger number of smaller packets); and
  • Strong security features.

There are definitely challenges to deploying NFV, and a learning curve, but they can be mitigated through planning and advanced testing at all stages. Learn more in our whitepaper “Testing vEPC and vIMS Network Functions Virtualization”.