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Going virtual: Life on the cloud

2015.05.01 By Chen Qiuju

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Huawei is well on its way to becoming a leading Prime System Integrator thanks to our mature products and technologies that fully cover the NFV sector, verified integration management capabilities, and an increasingly comprehensive testing and verification environment.

Telcos have consistently focused on providing better, faster network services for users, and have made considerable progress in this area. In less than ten years, the bearing capacities of OTNs and WANs have grown exponentially, while PON FTTH and 4G fast downstream rates have accelerated access for users more than tenfold.

However, major technological advances and capacity building have failed to translate into greater returns for carriers; instead, they have paved the way for OTT applications that hinder operators’ revenue streams. Just a few years ago, for example, SMS messages over Chinese New Year would generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue for China Mobile; however, after WeChat grew to 200 million users, the impact of SNS on voice and SMS services of operators became clear – a sharp decline in revenue from both sources. Statistics reveal that there are now over 700 million WeChat users; their impact can only grow.

To compete with Internet companies in the application arena, carriers must possess the same rapid operating capabilities as Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent (BAT), Amazon and Google. Unfortunately, they currently lack the ability to develop in this way. In addition to the difficulties faced by operators in adjusting their structures over the short term, ICT vendors that can develop quickly only want to sell specialized equipment – a developmental direction that does not directly translate into a competitive advantage. Many IT vendors are poised to pounce and disrupt the market, seize control from operators, and redefine the industry structure.

But how do operators feel about IT vendors, especially OTTs. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

NFV: The answer for operators?

Operators are tired of their existing network systems for a number of reasons. Network functions and equipment are unified. Planning-based network construction takes too long. Exclusive resource use due to multi-vendor systems and versions complicates interconnections and joint debugging. Vendors are defining new function demands from software to hardware, leaving no room for competition. And, while there may be definite data for resource utilization, operators lack precise feedback in terms of end-to-end (E2E) revenue.

Open IT architecture happens to meet these demands, so operators are cautiously welcoming IT players. They are cautious because IT vendors do not understand the CT business and lack practical experience, which is in fact a situation that benefits ICT solutions vendors. Operators that want to both harness the openness of IT vendors and exploit rich experience in CT require network function virtualization (NFV) to do so.

The best thing about NFV is that it is open and fast. NFV adopts a horizontal network architecture that deploys a unified cloud OS on common hardware. Virtual network functions (VNFs) are then deployed on this system to cloudify existing network equipment and services through VNF orchestration and application. NFV possesses certain clear advantages – decoupled software and hardware, function abstraction, elimination of specialized hardware, and easy resource sharing. This culminates in the rapid development and automated deployment of new, scalable services that are tailored to actual business needs. Moreover, faults can be isolated, with self-healing possible.

NFV can truly address the major issues that operators face; however, as a new trend, are operators willing to roll up their sleeves and give it a go? Are there challenges in store? What other major issues must be dealt with?

First, a new business model is needed. Operators are accustomed to voice and data services but lack experience in operating content and marketing applications. Moreover, once network architecture shifts to IT-based NFV network architecture, operators must balance their investments. This will impact ICT vendors who have to sell integrated solutions instead of equipment, and force buyers and sellers to negotiate new business collaboration models.

Second, network planning and design face even greater demands, and operators must carry out capacity optimization for one or more data centers (DCs). The unified management of virtual hardware resources and the adoption of VxLAN technology will pave the way for data center resource pooling, which will in turn complicate capacity optimization because such large-scale data centers are involved. Also, while NFV will simplify network architecture, it will bring into question whether or not IT architecture can realize carrier-level reliability. As such, NFV networks will have to prove that they are not only simple and efficient, but robust and reliable as well.

System integration is effort-intensive and must support multi-module, cross-level integration. For example, the functions of OSI layers 4-7 must be unified on the application layer, but standardized solutions for this type of integration have yet to be created. The OpenStack intermediate system must be open to numerous third-party applications through open interfaces, which will significantly increase development and maintenance costs. Additionally, most of the original CT architecture-based testing methods and tools are no longer applicable, so new network optimization and testing tools must be developed. The need to integrate existing OSS/BSS and management and orchestration (MANO) is yet another new problem that ICT vendors and operators must face.

PSI: The best choice?

Difficulties and rewards go hand in hand. So how can operators make the right move? Which model can minimize the costs of achieving these objectives? In the current stage, the Prime System Integrator (PSI) model is the most suitable in that it fully assesses multiple ICT vendors as well as their product, management and integration capabilities. PSI also enables the provision of an integrated management system on which other vendors perform module integration and service deployment.

A PSI must build four platforms that realize the following functions – network planning; business modeling, simulation, and verification; integration program implementation; and performance monitoring and operations. A PSI must have the ability to advise, plan and design; integrate multiple vendors; and integrate business processes and IT architectural platforms. The PSI is also responsible for overseeing the integration of four modules – NFV Infrastructure (NFVI), MANO, application platforms, and existing equipment and systems.

Given its rich PSI integration experiences with major operators like Vodafone and vendors such as HP and VMware, Huawei plans to create an open environment by constructing its own NFV Open Lab in Xi'an, China. The laboratory will develop, fulfill, and verify services in the OpenStack and NFV environments; carry out integration testing; and offer comprehensive services, including technical training, certifications, and demos.

Huawei has remained open and positive about NFV. As chair of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Infrastructure Work Group (WG), 236 of Huawei’s proposals have been adopted. It has contributed to all nine cases, and was the main contributor for four. In 2013, Huawei became an OpenStack gold member and participated in key research for the MPLS VPN and Neutron projects. In 2014, Huawei was honored at the IMS World Forum for providing the "Most Innovative Virtualized IMS Solution". At the ONF (Open Network Foundation), Huawei leads nine different projects including wireless, northbound interface (NBI), and optical transmission solutions. It has also been honored as an "Outstanding Technical Contributor" in network security, and has contributed to seven of nine total use cases.

With investments and accumulation throughout the NFV sector, Huawei has evolved its products and technologies, enhanced its verified integration management capabilities, and optimized and expanded its testing and verification environment. As it embarks on the road to becoming a senior Prime System Integrator, Huawei will work together with operators to accelerate the arrival of NFV.

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