To reap the dramatic cost reduction promised by virtualization, The New IP networks of the future must be policy-driven and able to meet customer demands regardless of the application, service, time or day.
In fact, new policy management research from Infonetics Research, now part of IHS Inc., shows there is renewed demand and new requirements for policy management solutions, especially for flexibility and scalability -- likely due to the push toward network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN).
Top Business Drivers for Deploying Policy Management Solutions.
According to Infonetics, operators are replacing their existing systems for a number of reasons, said Shira Levine, directing analyst for service enablement and subscriber intelligence at Infonetics. "Lack of scalability was at the top of the list for replacement," she said, referring to results from the firm's annual survey of 23 global service providers.
Also at the top of the list of reasons for replacement was too time consuming, lack of functionality and the inability to deploy existing solutions on COTS hardware. "Policy represents an early opportunity to start virtualization. Because so many [newer] solutions are on COTS, they are doing it as an early opportunity to start deploying VNFs," said Levine.
For example, the survey showed that today only 13% of service providers were currently running policy as a virtual network function (VNF), but by the end of 2016 that goes up to 57%. "This bears out our belief that policy is going to be an early target for virtualization," said Levine.
Whereas a few years ago, there were multitudes of software vendors entering the policy management market in addition to network equipment suppliers introducing their own policy management solutions as part of a larger EPC [evolved packet core] solution, the market has changed and Levine expects a vendor shake-up.
"Today a lot of those software vendors are gone or acquired and operators are replacing because the solutions that they had put in place are not scaling or supporting what they want to do with things like LTE," she said. "In some cases they are ripping and replacing -- not often but some. In some cases they are doing a gradual switch over and really looking for new vendors."
Other highlights from the survey include the fact that 51% of service providers said marketing is being brought to the table for purchasing decisions. "That is definitely up year-over-year," said Levine. "I think it reflects the way that operators are looking at policy differently. It's not just something you stick in the network as part of the 3GPP standard. It's actually something that can help you really create some innovative service capabilities, bundles, offers -- particularly when it's combined with analytics and real-time charging."
In addition, Levine says providers are implementing policy hand-in-hand with self-care portals. "They can let customers make changes to their services without having to call in, or order additional bandwidth, or order services on their phone, and have that flow through to the PCRF [policy and charging rules function]."
Levine was also surprised that 32% of operators surveyed plan to deploy policy via a cloud-based software-as-a-service platform by the end of 2016.
"This makes sense because if you look at policy becoming more of a marketing tool, the marketing guys might not be particularly interested in working with the network department. Having a software-as-a-service application is innately more scalable, more flexible and it lets them try out service creation more cost effectively and efficiently than if they had to go to the network department and make changes to the PCRF every time they wanted to try a new service," she said.
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP