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More telcos turning to NFV to cut costs and provision services

Global telcos are increasingly deploying network functions virtualisation in their business, reports the OpenStack Foundation

With levels of data traffic across their networks reaching unprecedented levels, and customer expectations around service levels mounting, telecoms operators are in the vanguard when it comes to the adoption of network functions virtualisation (NFV) technology in the network, according to a report from the OpenStack Foundation.

The report, titled Accelerating NFV Delivery with OpenStack, said that NFV was changing the game for telcos because it helped them quickly develop and deploy new applications while reducing their reliance on proprietary hardware from traditional network suppliers, and easing the strain on their datacentres.

NFV works by decoupling network functions from dedicated hardware devices, such as routers, firewalls and load balancers, and hosting them on a virtual machine. This means that networks can be controlled using a hypervisor on a standard x86 server.

The foundation claimed that its open-source cloud-building software was rapidly emerging as the NFV platform build of choice among telcos.

Although adoption of NFV remains in its infancy, said the OpenStack Foundation, it is already projected to grow rapidly by the end of the decade.

Infonetics Research statistics suggest that the market will increase fivefold by 2019, with a projected value of $11.6bn (£8bn), while SNS Research is currently estimating a compound annual growth rate of 54% between now and 2020. A survey conducted by Heavy Reading in 2015 found that 60% of telecoms professionals were actively exploring the technology.

Organisations implement NFV

AT&T is one of a number of telecoms and network firms that have implemented NFV, in response to a staggering 100,000% increase in traffic over its network since 2008 – much of it video – that has rendered complex routing and switching environments impractical at best.

Its next generation network emulates these complex hardware environments with software-defined networking (SDN) and NFV tech running on standard off-the-shelf servers, meaning it can add more capacity and push upgrades to customers much faster than before.

According to AT&T senior executive vice-president of technology and network operations John Donovan, many millions of AT&T wireless subscribers are connected to virtualised network services – many relying on AT&T’s integrated cloud, which is built on OpenStack.

It hopes to have virtualised and controlled three-quarters of its global network using a software-defined architecture by the end of the decade.

Read more about NFV

Meanwhile, Verizon is deploying NFV primarily because – like most other telcos – its carrier network is constructed with massive amounts of redundancy to account for surges in usage at peak times.

It is taking the prospect of network virtualisation seriously, therefore, and sees it as a way to build lower-cost network agility and flexibility without support staff for proprietary functions. It is currently in the process of building a company-wide OpenStack platform to run virtual network functions (VNFs) and other internal applications.

In Europe, Deutsche Telekom is also well on its way to embracing NFV. It launched production workloads running OpenStack at the heart of a cloud VPN service available in Croatia, Hungary and Slovakia in March 2015. It also believes that it needs to push specialised hardware out of its network in the near future, and is using NFV to deploy and scale-up functions as and when they are needed.

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