What is network virtualization?
In short, it’s everything the old network wasn’t. Cloud-hosted managed services (Telco cloud), software defined networking (SDN), virtualized network functions (NFV), and zero-touch operations supported by big data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
What's more, it’s a whole new way of partnering with your customers. In the virtualized network, customers and service providers develop new, innovative services together. Rather than guessing what the next "killer app" will be, they jointly develop and refine their business needs into business enablers.
Agile services, customer managed services, DevOps development models, over-the-top (OTT) application providers, continuous innovation, and more. Gone are the days of trying to fit new service models onto existing, often outdated network and operations models.
To be successful in this dynamic environment, the virtual network requires greater visibility than ever before.
EXFO has the solutions and expertise you need to help you succeed.
How will network virtualization impact service providers?
Perhaps the biggest challenge, when dealing with network virtualization, is the fact that it’s... well, virtual. By its very nature, the network is no longer physically tangible and, therefore, not something easily visualized by humans. How do you find problems in a virtual network that’s constantly changing? How do you know that scaling a service won’t break the network? How do you measure service performance when you can’t be sure how it’s being routed? Having a clear picture of the performance of the ever-changing network and services is critical to successfully managing this transformation.
Monitoring service function chaining integrity
In a virtualized network, services are created at the service endpoints by chaining together virtualized network functions (VNFs) in a specific order to achieve the functionality specified in the service definition. When new services are created, it is essential that this service chain be validated to ensure compliance.
Additionally, due to the dynamic nature of virtualized networks, services – and hence their associated service chains – may be rerouted or moved to address areas such as efficiency, load balancing or recovery from a failure event. When this happens, it is equally important to verify that the service chains were rebuilt according to the agreed service specifications.
Having an orchestrated service assurance solution, embedded into the service chain itself, is the only way to ensure 100% visibility into service chain integrity during these events, or to detect failures in the service chain during normal operations.
End-to-end network service monitoring
One simple truth of virtualized networks is, it’s no longer possible to infer service quality by monitoring network quality. Because the traditional 1:1 mapping of service topology to network topology has been broken, you can no longer tell if a service is working by simply looking at network key performance indicators.
Why is this a problem? Well, in traditional networks, most services – likely any service not covered by an SLA – were not explicitly monitored. The assumption was that if there were no network alarms and the customer wasn’t complaining, then everything must be ok. In the virtualized network, this is no longer the case. Silent failures of service chains or cloud-based services may not show up in any kind of network alarm, nor is it easy to associate network alarms with a virtual service.
By orchestrating service assurance into most, if not all, service chains, service providers can have 100% visibility of every service and at very little additional coast. This visibility will be essential to supporting proactive QoE management and zero-touch operations.
Active network topology and inventory visibility
Having an accurate view of network and service topologies, along with an up-to-date inventory of both available and consumed resources, is critical to being able to build, operate and maintain any network. But when the network is virtual and both the network and service topologies can change to address changing conditions in the network state and service demand, this can become a huge challenge.
Active network topology and inventory visibility is even more critical given that automation will play a significant role in helping manage the virtual network. Without a real-time, accurate view of the network and service topologies as well as an up-to-date view of the active inventory, automation solutions will fail to deliver meaningful support.
Active, real-time topology discovery must be a central element of operations in the virtualized network.
Real-time impact assessment of network and service dynamics
Virtual networks are designed to be highly elastic with regards to scaling up and down to address changes in demand. They are built to support agile service development and rapid deployment. And, they’re intended to support zero-touch operations and customer-managed self-service portals.
With all this potential for rapid change, how do you make sure the network can provide adequate support without negatively impacting customer QoE? How do know there’s capacity for a new service offering? How can you be sure that a new virtual router can be spun up to offload traffic without impacting customer performance?
In a zero-touch, highly dynamic virtual network, you need tools and data to predict exactly how the network and its services will be impacted by these changes.
Unintended consequences of change can do more damage to existing services – and your reputation – than the issues you were trying to address.
How does network virtualization help service providers?
CAPEX reduction was once considered the primary driver for the move to virtualization. However, many carriers are discovering this is not actually the case. The real benefits come from OPEX savings, infrastructure and service elasticity and agility. Faced with a shrinking workforce and key skills deficit, virtual networks allow carriers to leverage automation, machine learning, artificial intelligence and big data to drive cost out of their operations and reduce the need for a highly skilled workforce. Does your network have what it needs to deliver a superior customer experience without breaking the bank?
Automation of complex or repetitive tasks
One of the key benefits of the transformation to virtualized networks is the increased reliance on automation to support just about every aspect of operations. The use of automation to manage complex tasks is particularly interesting given that service providers are being challenged to reduce OPEX. By automating service provisioning, network optimization, troubleshooting, root cause analysis and more, providers faced with a shrinking workforce and shortfall of skilled technical resources can continue to deliver high-quality services at a lower cost.
Additionally, since automated operations rely heavily on high-quality data to drive better decisions, being able to automate data measurement, correlation and storage means this highly repetitive function is done with greater consistency and quality, avoiding human error often associated with these functions.
Consistent network data and measurements
The quality of any data set is directly related to how the data is generated, measured and stored. In a virtual network, where big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and analytics are critical to success, this is especially true. By automating the entire process of generating key performance indicators (KPIs) and by orchestrating service activation testing and service assurance monitoring into every service, the service provider guarantees the KPIs are generated consistently for all services throughout the entire virtual network. Additionally, by leveraging these KPIs to fuel policy-driven operations activities, the provider can bring an additional level of consistency and fairness to the way services and service related issues are handled, further improving the overall customer quality of experience.
Zero-touch network operations
The virtualized network brings with it the promise of service innovation and explosive growth. Highly elastic (to cost-effectively address scaling up or down) and service agile (with a DevOps approach to innovation), the virtual network is set to play a pivotal role in the transformation toward IoT and 5G. It also brings with it the tools to enable this explosive growth. Many analysts predict there will be more than 20 billion IoT devices by 2020—and it is simply impossible to connect and manage this many devices manually.
The virtual network unlocks the possibility of a truly zero-touch, or fully automated, network by moving everything to software running on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware platforms. By leveraging standard operations models, like the MEF lifecycle service orchestration (LSO) model, services can now be created, spanning multiple carrier domains and technologies, using open APIs driven through customer portals or carrier back office systems— without the need for human intervention. With no need to wait for truck rolls and IT support to turn up new services, growth is limited only by network capacity and reach.
Proactive customer experience management
Automation, a fundamental enabler of the virtualized network, will also open the door to greater control of customer QoE, through proactive customer service management. By utilizing orchestrated service assurance for both active and passive probing of every service, the carrier can get a real-time view of how each service is performing along with a robust profile of the customer usage patterns.
By tracking service performance, the service provider can see negative trends happen and take corrective action—perhaps even before the customer notices. Services outages and calls to customer support could become a thing of the past!
By leveraging passive probing, the service provider can build an extensive view of the customer and their usage patterns, allowing them to readily customize service offerings to cater to each customer.
The right services, operating beyond five 9s availability—now that’s proactive customer care!
The virtualized network promises to completely change the way networks are built, operated and maintained. They are software based, leverage SDN and NFV, and are highly scalable, service-agile networks that encourage open platform development with best-in-breed functionality. However, the fact they are virtual means managing them effectively will require new tools and processes that leverage automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence to address their increased complexity and dynamic nature. EXFO brings you the experience and solutions to enable greater network insight.
Network and service topology discovery
The virtual network is an invisible network. It’s a connected set of software functions residing in COTS hardware located in data centers and customer locations. Furthermore, it is an ever-changing network that scales up or down depending on demand and is continuously optimizing itself to address service and network issues. Keeping track of network and service topology has never been an easy task, but in the virtual network, it’s even more challenging.
Many operations functions require detailed knowledge of network and service topologies, and an updated view of the active inventory, to run effectively. Everything from provisioning to troubleshooting requires a real-time view of the state of the network.
Real-time, automated topology mapping provides this critical solution by continually tracing the live topology to track changes as they happen. And for a network that will rely heavily on automation to drive operations efficiency, having an accurate, up-to-date view of the topology and inventory will be critical for activities like fault correlation or capacity reservation.
EXFO has the analytics and topology discovery tools you need to see into the invisible network.
Orchestrated service assurance
Automation will drive the virtual network. Simply put, manual operations will not be able to address the scale and complexity of virtual networks. A key aspect of automation is consistent, accurate and complete information to drive appropriate decisions, and this information will come from key performance indicators (KPIs) derived from most, if not all services in the virtual network.
Service management, in the virtual network, will be handled by end-to-end, NFV orchestrators, so it only makes sense that service activation testing and service assurance be included in this orchestration function. In this way, assurance becomes an aspect of the service rather than something that is applied afterwards, as an afterthought.
EXFO has the active and passive service testing and assurance solutions needed to give operators the visibility they need to build, operate and manage their virtual networks.
Network analytics and machine learning
Millions of services, customer-controlled dynamic bandwidth allocation, DevOps driven development, constantly changing networks and service topologies: these are just some of the features that will account for the need for automated operations in virtual networks – automation that will require sophisticated analytics to support it.
Orchestrated service assurance will help provide the KPIs needed by these analytics engines, but leveraging analytics to proactively manage networks and services will also require sophisticated machine learning engines to discover hidden issues and trends in the sea of KPI data. Virtual networks have the potential to generate billions of KPIs per day. And making sense of this volume of data and looking for anomalies or trends is beyond human capability.
EXFO has analytics tools, including real-time topology mapping, to address the ever-changing virtual network and machine learning algorithms. EXFO can enable automated and proactive operations to provide better network insight.