Virtualization technologies are the latest tools for maintaining and controlling today’s networks, but it’s only recently that mobile operators have begun to migrate network control over to virtualized platforms. At the same time, carriers and their engineers are leaving behind the old, hardware-based ways of network management. This also includes the understanding of how service assurance worked in the context of hardware-based network operations.
As these “real” tools are replaced with virtual code, operators are faced with the immediate need to support both software- and hardware-based hybrid deployments — deployments that could be around for the long term.
Leading the Way
One major company increasingly seen as a leader when it comes to virtualization is AT&T. In late 2014, the company announced that by 2020 it would control 75% of its network resources using virtualization technology. At the end of 2015, AT&T had already surpassed its then-target of 5% control. Any new network function introduced into the nearly 6% of the company’s 250 distinct network functions that have been virtualized so far is being deployed as a software element operating on cloud infrastructure. This stands in contrast to using off-the-shelf hardware to control non-virtualized network functions.
Although there are several differences between dealing with service assurance in a hardware-based environment versus dealing with service assurance in a virtualized environment, those differences are not as sharply defined as one would think. The idea of a pure cloud world doesn’t exist. Instead, brownfield deployments dominate, bringing about a series of challenges that could impact the overall success and resiliency of migration efforts.
In a recent attempt to bridge the gap between the “real” and virtual environments, AT&T launched the enhanced control, orchestration, management and policy (ECOMP) project. The aim is to deliver automation support for a number of critical network deployment tasks, including service delivery and service assurance. The ECOMP project may provide some form of guidance for wide area network deployments involving network functions virtualization. In recognition of the growing importance of open source, ECOMP is designed to work with OpenStack and a number of other cloud and compute environments.
Verizon Communications has also made strides in its transition towards virtualized platforms. The telecom operator has taken steps to move forward with virtualization, including service chaining multiple vendor deployments and leveraging managed services to overcome physical device issues.
There are also concerns about service assurance within the context of the multivendor environment. Although it’s possible for the open source community to play an important role in surmounting this challenge, some analysts note that this possible solution has its own set of issues.
To learn more about how eXemplify’s expertise in virtualization can benefit your business, contact us today.