As operators get closer to commercial deployment, the barriers to NFV and SDN are becoming more prominent, including cost. Speculation is growing that the move to virtualization could come with a hefty price tag.
Network operators have some concern about this likelihood: At the Big Telecom Event in Chicago, Heavy Reading revealed survey results that showed the number one concern of service providers when it came to NFV and SDN deployments was the "lack of a clear business case." They don't see a well-defined return on investment. (See SDN & NFV Drive IoT.)
That's why, as the industry moves from proof-of-concept mode to mainstream adoption and commercial applications -- something expected as early as 2016 -- there needs to be more thinking done about the business and marketing side of the service transition, says Doug Suriano, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Communications.
There also needs to be a realistic view, however, of whether an immediate return is what network operators should be looking for. At this point, he says, "I think everybody sees there will be payoff in the investment, but if you were to go do a business case with a clear ROI, I think you would struggle, at least where we are right now."
Rather than thinking about ROI, service providers should be -- and many are -- concerned with implementing new services that will generate new revenues, and that's where they need help, Suriano says. "How do you implement new services? How do you interact with the service creation and getting those services actively deployed in the network?" he asks. "There is very little standardization around the business side right now."
Viewing OSS as "the most underserved area in this NFV and cloud market," Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) is transforming its OSS assets for the cloud to bring the business side of managing the New IP's software-based networks to fore, he says. Using its network service orchestrator, the software giant is tying together the business and network operations.
Oracle has also been updating the analytics necessary to allow customers to automate networks because the cost savings with NFV and software-based networks is going to be around reducing opex. "We don't see a ton of capex savings -- maybe there'll be some -- but reducing the human intervention and the length of time that it takes to [introduce] new services is really where we are going to save the majority of the opex," Suriano says.
To this end, Oracle is rolling visibility of real-time protocols and transactions together with analytics so that service providers can feed information back into the service orchestration layer and ultimately get to the goal of a fully automated, hand-off network.
Along with the analytics, the company has been adapting its catalog management, inventory management and service activation, and pulling those capabilities into the network side while making them real-time. The goal is to get service rollout from six months or a year to "six weeks, six days or six hours or six minutes, eventually," he says.
Getting to that pace of service rollout isn't easy -- or cheap. That's why the short-term focus on ROI is doomed to fail.
"It's exciting to get stuff virtualized and get the network running in a virtual mode, but you are not going to save that much," says Suriano. "I've seen some implementations that have been two times the cost in virtual mode and that's because we aren't efficient at it yet. That is a big issue and problem."
Once OpenStack is fully matured and service providers are able to use open source hypervisor support, that two-fold cost will go back down to a one-to-one ratio, says Suriano. "I don't think you will save a ton on infrastructure costs, but you will save a lot on the management and operations side because you are not going to have to design 12-15 month projects to roll out new services," he says. "You are going to get them down to a shorter amount of time and hopefully with automation, you are going to take away the human intervention to manage these services and infrastructure."
To this end, just last week, the company released four products that help communications service providers cut through the layers of complexity inherent in hybrid physical and virtual environments, including: Oracle Communications Session Border Controller, Oracle Communications Converged Application Server, Oracle Communications Services Gatekeeper and Oracle Communications Policy Management. (See Oracle Unveils Four VNFs.)
One thing that's important to keep in mind is that everyone in the industry is going through the shift to a New IP world together, and that that will mean both success and failures, says Suriano. Even more important though is avoiding delay. "Hopefully, you are going to try new things and fail fast, but to realize the benefits, you can't really wait for the industry to get its act together across the board."
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Editor, The New IP