Virtualization gives communication service providers (CSPs) a new level of flexibility by enabling network functions and services anywhere, with the added possibility of different functions and services sharing the same physical resources. However, this new paradigm introduces an additional layer of complexity when identifying and isolating issues when they appear, as well as pinpointing their root cause and determining the true impact to customers.
It creates the need for much more sophisticated assurance capabilities that go beyond the traditional network monitoring to one that includes a combination of data center and network analysis capabilities encompassing physical and virtual resources in real time.
The role of the NFV orchestrator
This new critical component, the network functions virtualization (NFV) orchestrator, provides management of NFV services, including onboarding of new network services and virtual network functions (VNFs). For the sake of this article, the term orchestration is defined as the end-to-end service management through automated provisioning, configuration, and assurance across virtualized and physical components.
The introduction of virtualized network functions will not completely replace the legacy network deployed in specialized hardware, which means that CSPs will operate hybrid networks for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, it is clear that the orchestration layer should expand from the data center all the way to the access covering both physical and virtual network components.
This orchestration layer must be integrated with legacy systems such as OSS and BSS and element management system (EMS)/network management system (NMS) as well as with new elements such as network controllers or cloud managers (VIM, VNF Managers, etc.).
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Orchestration layer benefits
(SDN) and NFV are independent, albeit closely linked technologies that occupy significant mindshare in the service provider community for their transformative potential to improve the customer experience and reduce costs. In conjunction with these technologies, the orchestration layer enables CSPs to make greater use of automated processes in troubleshooting, fulfillment and assurance. For example, the orchestration layer can:
- Reduce the time to introduce new services from months to days if not hours;
- Create on-the-fly network functions and move them dynamically to a different hardware platform or even to an entirely different location;
- Auto-scale network functions to optimize the hardware resources needed; and
- Auto-scale network bandwidth and create on-the-fly network services.
Realizing these benefits is predicated on virtualization and orchestration being done right--with automation and agility as its cornerstones. A new breed of analytics must be used to drive smarter orchestration for CSPs and help them to deliver comparable service quality and experience to expectant customers. Sophisticated, machine-driven analytics is essential to quickly detecting and redressing service disruptions in this complex ecosystem.
Monitoring and acting on both the physical and virtual network
With virtualization, CSPs enjoy a new level of flexibility that comes with the ability to instantiate network functions and services anywhere along with the added possibility of different functions and services sharing the same physical resources. However, this new paradigm introduces complexity to identifying and isolating issues when they appear, as well as pinpointing their root cause and determining the true impact to customers. It creates the need for much more sophisticated assurance capabilities that go beyond the traditional network monitoring to one that includes a combination of data center and network analysis capabilities encompassing physical and virtual resources in real time.
The current OSS layer needs to adjust to a new model in which control and service functions are instantiated dynamically based on resource demands. In addition, VNFs and the links used to connect services must move dynamically based on utilization, policy, and business logic rules. As NVFs are added, moved, and de-commissioned, the monitoring points must also be created, moved, and retired at the same rate. Additionally, service assurance system should have a unified, end-to-end view of network topology (both physical and virtual) and operate in real time to detect issues and recommend solutions.
While Orchestration brings the benefits listed above, it also adds a new layer of complexity to coordinate, monitor and manage all the resources involved in delivering services. Orchestration must be supported by an analytics engine that can collect information in real-time from all different parts of the network, both physical and virtual, and correlate data with other OSS/BSS systems and customer experience markers to detect anomalies, predict customer experience issues and prescribe the solution to the orchestration layer.
Machine intelligence automates service-oriented approach
New operations analytics technologies use machine intelligence to help operators transition to an automated, real-time, service-oriented approach focused on optimal consumer experience. Machine intelligence can learn from data and automatically adapt to new information, intuiting connections and relationships to proactively detect anomalies and prescribe the likely solution.
This kind of machine intelligence applies real-time data collection, behavioral analytics and reasoning to automate orchestration and assure carrier-grade services in a virtualized environment. It quickly analyzes the large number of variables that pertain to the health of the network across all available layers to understand the user experience.
Machine intelligence capabilities can automate service assurance and improve the customer experience in an NFV environment by enabling CSPs to:
- Discover and prioritize service anomalies according to customer impact;
- Focus on alarms that lead to customer experience degradation;
- Enable assisted and preventative customer care;
- Proactively prescribe maintenance that improves the customer experience;
- Optimize real-time dynamic resources allocation; and
- Enforce real-time policy to restrict network abusers.
CSPs should approach the challenge of transitioning to all-IP world with NFV functionality strategically by embedding machine intelligence as a key pillar for delivering the level of service assurance in virtualized environments. Real-time operations analytics enable CSPs to assure superior customer experience while maximizing the full benefits offered by virtualized functions.