Network functions virtualization (NFV) is set to revolutionize many aspects of the communications industry, but where will service providers see the biggest bang for their buck? According to results from The New IP's highly (un)scientific poll, "Where will SPs get their biggest bang for their buck with NFV?" almost half of respondents say it would be through delivering new services, cheaper and faster.
Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Caroline Chappell agrees with the 46% of poll respondents who chose that answer. Today, when a customer places an order for a new service, there are many physical aspects involved in delivering that service, including procuring hardware, making network and systems changes, dispatching engineers, testing, pushing things out into third-party systems and more. All of these things add up to time -- 60 to 90 days, to be exact -- and operators may not see revenue on the books until three months later, she says.
"With NFV, everything becomes self-service and configurable online," Chappell notes. "It takes service delivery down to a matter of days and hours, and that is revenue straight to the books."
Reducing the cost of network infrastructure took second place in the poll, with 28% of the vote. That makes sense, as it's widely thought that by virtualizing the network functions, service providers stand to save a bundle. Chappell says, however, that while service providers may save in the long run, costs may be higher in the beginning because of the cost involved in orchestration, virtualization, and creating the layer of software, including a managed stack, reliability and security. All of that was built into old appliances but has now been extracted out.
"You still have to pay for it. You still have to have it there," she says. "This is the management of the infrastructure bit that people are tussling with... and the reason people are saying it actually negates the benefits of using white boxes at the moment."
Other costs that service providers could face in the near term include hiring for the right skill sets and data center expenses. Plus, she adds, "The jury is by no means out on whether you are just going to have a heterogeneous, white-boxes-everywhere infrastructure, because if you are serving enterprise customers, those enterprise customers may want, for very good reasons, to use a certain branded function like a branded firewall. Operators are going to want to be quite flexible."
Right behind reducing cost of the network infrastructure was deploying new network capabilities, with 16% of the vote. While not in the top spot, the potential revenue bump from increased network flexibility, rapid service delivery, simplicity and scalability will be welcomed by service providers, which are under pressure to compete with an ever-changing landscape of nimble competitors.
Rounding out the bottom of the poll were NFV's abilities to give more control to the customer and to simplify the customer premises, taking just 6% and 3% of the vote, respectively.
I have to disagree a bit here, and say that customer control should rank higher, when you take into consideration the inherent value of the ability to empower customers to shape their services to meet their needs.
Indeed, Chappell sees customer-driven management as the important next stage of NFV. "Self-service and customer experience go hand-in-hand, and the leading-edge service providers realize they have to empower the customer to do it," she says. (See Customer Experience in an SDN World for an example of one service provider focusing on CEM.)
For this week's new poll, I'm asking readers what they consider to be the biggest challenge service providers face in meeting the needs of enterprise customers in The New IP era. Check it out and vote today: Meeting Enterprise IT Challenges.
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP