NFV: A Step In The Right Direction

Industry collaboration is bringing changes at breakneck speed, so it is important for operators and their service providers to align their focus now for achieving the full technology benefits.

Network function virtualization (NFV) has changed the pace of the telecom industry. The big question, however, is whether the disruptions brought on by these technologies will create a paradigm shift in the way networks are being operated today. Another question is how NFV will actually result in significant savings for service providers on the Capex and Opex fronts.

Nonetheless, NFV aims to address several issues by consolidating different network equipment onto industry standard high volume servers. Meaning that NFV could offer some key benefits, including reduced equipment costs, increased speed of time to market and more targeted and customized service.

What Is The Impact On Systems?

Service providers currently assure their network by using: fault management (or network surveillance), performance management for capacity management and detecting soft failures in the network, service management by focusing on both SLA management, and service quality management. When it comes to wireless networks, customer experience management has also gained a lot of focus and traction in recent years.

With NFV, the physical network will start getting augmented with virtual networks. There will be co-existence of these hybrid networks for some time with new virtual networks before physical networks are completely replaced by the latter. In the context of assurance, one would require additional instrumentation for visibility on the whole new virtual setup that gets created for delivering the Virtual Network Functions (VNFs).

What Does Fault NFV Management Entail?

Currently, the assurance OSS used by network operations teams consists of an umbrella fault management solution or respective element managers to monitor their transmission, switching or IP transport networks. However, for monitoring IT infrastructure, including: applications, servers and data centers, a separate set of enterprise management tools have traditionally been used by IT operations teams. With NFV, the boundaries between the two will start getting further blurred - a movement that got started with advent of Value-Added Services (VAS), Intelligent Networks (IN) and Service Delivery Platforms (SDP). This would mean enhancement of IT assets monitoring capabilities in the existing network fault management tools or a separate domain manager for IT domain.

How Has Fault Management Evolved And What Are The Implications For Network Availability?

The faults that emanate in the physical world typically require a lot of manual interventions. The capacity issue or hardware-related faults in the physical environment require manual trouble-shooting or a visit by field engineers. However, in the virtual environment, due to built-in resiliency in the environment, these manual activities can be eliminated. As per ETSI ISG Management and Network Operations (MANO) framework, the Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) that manages NFVI resources within a domain and the Virtual Network Function Manager (VFM) that performs orchestration and management function of various VNFs, are designed to have comprehensive monitoring and configuration management capabilities of their respective domain, which can be leveraged to fix the infrastructure issues in real time, remotely and even without manual intervention.

Each of these VIMs and VNF Managers will be enhanced to have a separate, built-in resolution modules that would trigger a corrective action based on alarms generated at the NFVI layer and VM/VNF layer. Over a period of time, with advanced analytics capabilities further augmented in these systems, these will be able to both proactively identify the issues and trigger a series of actions to avoid a larger system impact. This should facilitate a movement towards “self-healing” networks.

The umbrella fault management system will get the notifications of the issues, the automated corrective actions, and the resolution status or the events (issues) that could not be resolved even after launch of corrective actions. This system will be enhanced with an auto-healing engine that will trigger certain corrective actions through the NFV Orchestrator.

The Road Ahead

It is only a matter of time until the inherent resilience of virtual environment, automated workflows and corrective actions within the VIMs or VNF Managers or OSS assurance systems will be able to solve a significant number of problems. This will significantly reduce the effort required for network assurance operations.

NFV technology is not only going to impact the Capex for the acquisition of new networks and services, but it will also have far-reaching implications for reducing Opex for network organizations.

Industry collaboration is bringing these changes at breakneck speed, so it is important for operators and their service providers to align their focus now for achieving the full technology benefits.

Abhinav Anand is a Consulting Partner at Wipro.