Fillp De Greve, product marketing manager at Nokia, charts a course through network complexity; delving into, like boats evolving from wood to metal, whether SDANs are the answer.
Network complexity is one of the biggest challenges facing operators today and tomorrow as technology innovations and user demands continue to evolve and grow. To avoid sinking their ships, communication service providers must build better boats with new operational models that protect strategic assets, avoid unsustainable investments and increase efficiencies through automation and zero touch networking. Filip De Greve, product marketing manager at Nokia, sets sail.
This is where Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) come in. Like boats evolving from wood to metal, Software Defined Access Networks (SDAN) adds a new element to today’s networks that help improve the design, integrity, cost and utilisation needs essential to successfully navigating the uncharted waters ahead.
SDAN represent the next generation of intelligent access networks. Bringing virtualisation into the access network helps operators better manage the growing complexity and the costs that can come with it. It can do this by providing operators with the ability to separate application logic from application data and scale device and service layers separately. This in turn enables software-driven automation and machine-assisted decision making, which can help streamline and integrate operations with the service providers existing cloud and IT environment.
Network agility is also crucial for any operator looking to remain competitive in a world where services and customer demands are continuously evolving. Using SDAN can help to virtualise elements of an operator’s legacy network and enhance flexibility through software applications that decoupled the underlying hardware and bring the entire network into the cloud. Doing this provides operators with a flexible plug-and-play environment that allows them to quickly introduce new services from the cloud and run zero-touch operations that enable operators to remotely control, scale and automate the network from the data centre. Creating an open development environment, SDAN ensures that any newly created services can be deployed and integrated across a broad mix of systems, technologies, networks, partners, and open source elements.
However, virtualising the whole network and replacing all physical infrastructure with software isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, operators should look to install platforms and services that best harness the intelligence and potential for programmability with Virtualisation, while supporting the most valuable use cases.
Virtualisation in a next-gen world
Use cases are continuing to drive the evolution of SDAN and are incredibly important when it comes to solving the challenges that operators face in an ever-changing telecommunications landscape.
As the industry gears up for a 5G future, one of the lead use cases for SDAN is network slicing – or Fixed Access Network Sharing (FANS) – which allows multiple operators to share a single infrastructure through network abstractions. FANS uses both software and the cloud to develop a network slice that can be controlled independently, allowing operators to protect performance and maximise usage while ultimately bringing about a faster return on network investment. This increases competition by lowering entry costs or enabling network wholesaling business models. Network slicing also decreases the risk of investment for the network owner and accelerates the deployment of ultra-broadband deployments to fixed and mobile users.
In addition to providing open access and wholesale models, network slicing can offer a new operational model for service portioning, particularly in 5G mobile use cases. Using virtual slicing, operators can deliver simultaneous services that require widely differing needs for bandwidth, latency and reliability within a single network deployment. Network slicking also enables operators to monetise offerings to large customers and verticals whose devices or traffic requirement have specific service characteristics. It can also ensure that dedicated SLAs with full autonomy can be created for customer care and day to-day operations.
The potential for SDAN to be integrated into edge cloud deployments has also emerged. By combining connectivity and cloud services for fixed and mobile customers at the edge of the network the central office becomes more cloudified. SDN and NFV can be used to enable 5G and IoT services and time-critical applications with network functions hosted close to subscribers.
Standards in progress
Ultimately, instead of deploying islands of technology that have SDN control, it needs to work end-to-end. Despite the growing number of successful use cases, one of the things that has hampered the spread of virtualisation techniques is a lack of standards. Until recently, protocol standards were straight forward and ensure a certain level of network interoperability that would yield benefits such as providing operators with technology choice, lower price points and access to new innovations. However, the open nature of SDN and NFV has meant that such standards haven’t developed in the same way, making operators wary of committing time, money and other resources to creating a new network.
So far, potential risks have been mitigated through open and non-proprietary NETCONF/YANG protocols, which removes much of the risk that comes with being an early adopter and creates a strong sense of reassurance that industry-wide standards are imminent. In the meantime, industry organisations such as ETSI NFV and Broadband Forum along with open source initiatives like ONAP and BAA are picking up on Virtualisation and establishing a new way for vendors and operators to collaborate and define the use cases driving innovation in Virtualisation . As these use cases evolve, Nokia is working to help keep the balance by focusing on one of the main SDN/NFV barriers for operators – bridging legacy and software-defined networks, regardless of where you stand in adopting SDN principles. With network automation tools that help operators to plan and grow efficiently, Nokia SDAN addresses the entire life cycle of the access network and allows physical and virtual elements to be integrated into existing network environments.
The wait is over
After years of talking about network virtualisation, it clear that the time for talk is over as operators look to put a hold on the increasing OPEX and declining revenue per bit and take control of the network complexity with more efficient operational models
It’s clear that throwing software at the problem is not the answer. Operators should look to partners that are able to deliver carrier-grade network functions which are optimised for the cloud. Operators should also forge an alliance with open industry initiatives and standardisation bodies along with collaborate on end-to-end use cases that provide tangible benefits.
From increased agility and faster time-to market to cost savings and additional revenues, the potential for SDAN is huge. With the technology advancing at a rapid rate, SDAN is moving from trials and small-scale deployments toward becoming a critical part of operators’ long-term plans. SDAN is the tool that operators have been waiting for to fight next-generation demands with next-generation networks.