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Published on January 2, 2017

EXFO’s Three-phase Path for Transitioning to NFV

EXFO presents you a first guest blog written by William S Greene, a technical writer for Pipeline Magazine.

From its conception, Pipeline Magazine has been helping telecom operators transform by leveraging more open and automated systems. We’re proud to be recognized for championing industry innovation in communications support systems. It is not just our mission, it gets us excited; and when excited, we want to tell people why. That’s why we started to explore software-defined networks years before it was encoded in Network Function Virtualization (NFV). We believe the future lies in autonomic networks. So when we heard that EXFO was offering virtualized network test functions, we investigated. What we found is an exciting and well-reasoned approach to realizing DevOps in the ICT industry.

Realizing agility through DevOps takes a strategic plan spanning months. EXFO recommends a staged approach keying on organizational change and the introduction of technology in incremental steps. Each step has its own challenges but provides new advantages.  EXFO’s  expertise and innovative technology facilitate three distinct transition phases: Virtualization, Automation, and DevOps with Service Assurance. EXFO participates in all three phases along the service provider’s path to more agile networks.

Phase one: Virtualization saves provider’s costs and provides multi-vendor flexibility. Operators save by converting single purpose, vendor specific hardware into virtualized network functions that reside in the cloud. Virtualizing the network allows for expanded capacity at reduced cost. This capacity can be expanded or contracted via small, smooth building blocks.

EXFO is well known as an operator’s preferred Service Assurance (SA) partner by providing test equipment, probes, and analytics that together validate service in the physical network. EXFO recognized that as specific purpose hardware is replaced by cloud resident software functions in an NFV/SDN transformation, the hardware test equipment also needs to be virtualized. So EXFO created virtualized test functions: EXFO TFv—Test Function Virtualization for the Virtual Network Verifier (VNF). EXFO continues to insure SA by deploying cloud-based test functions that are paired to the the virtualized network functions. Tests can be run anywhere in the service chain and protocol stack, between any points where a VNF is launched.

Phase two: Automation saves provider’s OPEX by enabling changes in OSS/BSS processes, replacing manual observation and responses with automated actions. In automating, engineering experience is translated into policy which controls the orchestration of observation and response. Experience has shown us that it is much easier to automate best practices when systems are opened up via APIs. APIs are used to unbundle functions and make them universally available.

EXFO re-architected their multi-technology SA applications to provide fine grain API access to test functions and probes. APIs can access VNFs, call for active tests, and call for detailed passive monitoring. During service provisioning, data can be collected and tests can be performed at each stage of the orchestration, insuring quality before continuing with deployment. After deployment, either passive monitoring or trouble reports can trigger these APIs. For example, an event triggers increased analytical measurements which then, based on the resulting data, could trigger further automated responses. When APIs link the orchestrator to tests and analytics, the result is closed loop Service Quality Management (SQM) - a significant step toward self-healing networks.

EXFO supports many different orchestration products through its APIs. OpenAPIs future-proof products by standardizing design for both the API provider and the API consumer. EXFO informs Pipeline that it is committed to following both TeleManagement Forum (TMF) and ETSI standards. It will introduce new APIs as they are defined in these organizations.

Phase three: DevOps with SA enables providers to generate increased revenue by shortening and tightening the idea-to-market cycle. In DevOps, development and operations are combined into a single process. As you create the new service, you build the operational processes that manage its use. Downstream automation provides service assurance. The DevOps promise is that new service deployment should become near instantaneous. EXFO reduces risk in DevOps by incorporating service assurance in the mix. EXFO enriches the DevOps process by embedding simulations, service operations, trouble management, and service validation into the matrix of day to day activities.

In network build out and new service design, EXFO’s many simulators mimic real-world customer behavior in lab environments, so operators can verify before deployment. This a critical first step. But sometimes the best lab is the real world.

One current agile best-practice is ‘evolution’ – service fitness determined by market selection. Build many services as fast as possible, quickly release them to the market and let situations and customers select for the success of the new services they value most. Unless the correct and efficient function of these services is assured before release, widespread service failures could select against an operator. So, EXFO’s SA is embedded into the DevOps process with orchestration. In development, for example, EXFO’s virtualized tests must be passed before the release. In service assurance, virtualized tests embedded in processes enrich operations with validation and troubleshooting methods.

Another agile new practice is to open up service creation to innovative third parties. These participants could be your marketing, your portfolio partners, external developers, or even your users. Outsiders are not always schooled in the high-reliability methods of service providers. Nor do they know all the features of network components. EXFO simplifies assuring SA during both service creation and service activation.

In service creation, EXFO enriches development tools with an iconic representation of available tests, monitoring, and troubleshooting - making these methods standard parts of run-time, engaged throughout the service life cycle. For example, tools can visualize an otherwise complex test as a single widget. The widget becomes a building block, making it simple to embed and orchestrate. Someone who is not experienced can add these tests without any detailed test or network knowledge. Some SA widgets can be made required. Others optionally selected by the third party.

Later, during service activation, the orchestrator is already programmed to ensure automatic tests are passed as services are checked into product catalogs. As many new services are mashups of other service components, each component can be automatically regression tested across all the places it is embedded.

This three phase approach raises the bar and provides a tangible path for network evolution. We’re anxious to watch, and report, as EXFO continues to help operators transform into agile service providers.

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