For service providers, network functions virtualization (NFV) is not a matter of if or why, it's a question of how -- how to know which services to move to the virtual environment first; how to manage the impact on culture and skill sets; and even how to buy it.
One thing is certain though, according to Jenny Huang, Standards and Industry Alliances, AT&T, and head of TM Forum's ZOOM program: The main focus on moving to virtualization needs to be business driven.
"Business reasons will give us a focus by which to move," she said, speaking at TM Forum's Digital Disruption conference last month. "In the physical network, we can map network services to the infrastructure one-to-one, but in the virtual world it's dynamic, so we need to decide which services will move [to a virtual environment] first."
For that reason, one key focus for TM Forum's ZOOM project this year will be building a dashboard that would show a service provider different configurations based on metrics.
"Metrics will let service providers make those decisions smarter than ever before," she said. "There are a lot of parameters that come along with this, but it has not been well-defined today and there are a lot of holes."
The question of company culture is also an important one and one that service providers and vendors alike are struggling with. According to Jeff Edlund, CTO Communications and Media Solutions, HP, the ability to overcome internal cultural barriers outstrips industry collaboration in terms of success.
"The carriers that are involved in the specifications of standards through groups like ETSI, OPNFV or TM Forum -- it doesn't matter," he said. Instead what's more important is "the breakdown of the hard line between CTO and CIO of the organization," said Edlund. "If you can remove these constructs that we have had for years and turn it into a shared infrastructure team -- those are the carriers that are moving faster, but not everyone is making this transition."
Edlund also noted that the "secret weapon" of business execution is the chief marketing officer. "If you can get them in the party, they are super-agile, they've got money and are focused on meeting a customer demand and generating revenue."
When it comes down to the solutions and procurement, Huang preached about the need for procurement lifecycle management as it ties closely to customer satisfaction and service level agreements. "The industry needs to have a specification for the NFV package and then decide who governs that specification," she said. "We need to have an additional layer in the information model to talk about the business … to help us with the procurement lifecycle."
For that reason, the Forum's ZOOM project group just completed and released a procurement readiness guide, which identifies the key technical, business, organizational and cultural changes necessary for service providers to successfully procure and deploy virtualized network components.
"Sourcing products for virtualization is so different from the traditional world," said Huang. "Traditionally it was three to six months but with virtualization, it can be days."
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP