Why virtual network success depends on strategic service assurance

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With the service provider software defined network (SDN) market forecast to grow from $289 million in 2015 to $8.7 billion in 2020, and the global network functions virtualization (NFV) market estimated to be worth $15.5 billion by 2020, the race is on among communications service providers to grab market share. That means that the ability to be agile and launch new services quickly and realise business benefits is more critical than ever.

However, as virtual services are deployed, even greater importance is required on assurance systems to better prepare the operations and customer facing teams to operationalize SDN/NFV services.  Service providers require tools for end-to-end and top-to-bottom service visualisation and real-time analytics so that any performance issues can be quickly identified, correlated and remediated. This will offer a seamless and high quality experience that will help retain customers, as well as promote business growth, which is the ultimate goal.

The challenges of transitioning to virtualised networks

There are significant challenges to assuring virtual services that will be even more difficult to address than the assurance of legacy networks that are much more static and well defined. The current transition to virtual services has been primarily focused on network architecture and orchestration.

But now, the next area of focus will need to be on operationalising virtual networks and assuring the performance and availability of these virtual services. There is more to the transition than deployment, fulfillment and orchestration. Service assurance and performance management is an area of great importance that must be taken into consideration as SDN/NFV services are being deployed.

Another key issue to focus on is how service providers are going to monitor and assure their networks as legacy and virtual networks co-exist in this new hybrid environment that will be the norm for the foreseeable future.

The importance of assuring virtual networks  

With the transition to a hybrid of legacy and virtualised network infrastructure, and the forthcoming reality of purely virtualised networks, service providers are now realizing the need for a strategic service assurance solution that will accommodate these changes.

If there is not an end-to-end, scalable service assurance solution in place by the time virtual services are deployed, their full potential and benefits will not be realised. Customer experience will suffer without a strategic assurance solution in place that can adapt to the dynamic nature of virtual services as compared to legacy services.

The right service assurance solution must have the ability to integrate and correlate information from several different virtual and physical monitoring points in the network rather than a simple physical monitoring points, as with traditional networks. For this to be made a reality, the service assurance system must be pre-integrated with the various SDN and NFV service layers, with out of the box integration to SDN Controllers, VNFs, network devices, element management systems and orchestration systems. Without this, providers may not be able to adapt quickly enough to compete effectively and maintain a high quality of customer experience.

With the complexity of vEPC, vCPE and SD-WAN services, orchestrators and controllers will have the ability to modify virtual services on demand, in real-time. This places a requirement on the service assurance solution for real-time adaptation to service changes in order to accurately reflect the current state and path of both virtual and hybrid services. One of the biggest challenges to support this will be the service assurance solution’s ability to maintain consistency of service performance metrics as the virtual and physical elements of the service change over time.

In addition, the service assurance solution will need to be integrated with OpenStack, OpenDaylight, SDN Controller(s) and Orchestration System(s). It must have the ability to adapt the virtual service in real-time yet maintain all health and performance historical data as the service evolves. In addition, the Service Assurance solution for virtual services must have the ability to perform: 

  • Automated service impact analysis and correlation
  • Closed loop feedback for service optimization and remediation to assure service integrity
  • Dynamic SLA management to be able to monitor SLAs in real-time even as the service evolves and changes 

Overall, service providers must be more proactive and expect to plan ahead in order to effectively assure services in SDN/NFV deployments. In order for virtual services to be successful, service providers must focus on real-time service performance and plan for the challenges that are coming as they roll out these services. This will not only guarantee the health of their networks, but the satisfaction of their customers.

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