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The Importance of Performance in a 5G World

by Angela Whiteford Angela Whiteford No Comments

The industry is racing to the next generation – 5G – which will be virtualized, replacing the costly, legacy, hardware-based infrastructure that has been in place for decades with common off the shelf (COTS) servers that offer a host of cost and operational advantages.

But did you know they also offer performance benefits as well?

As network operators transform existing 4G networks the need to continually improve performance and scalability has become a key business imperative to drive the cost per bit delivered. With the arrival of 5G, this need becomes even more pronounced in order to profitably serve the bandwidth demands of 5G applications and services. 5G will require significantly more data-processing horsepower from the network than we have ever seen to support the exponential rise in high-bandwidth data traffic (e.g., video), the creation of data-rich services and the introduction of billions of “talking” machines via the Internet of Things (IoT).  This performance will be required across all areas of the network, especially the mobile core.

And, these performance gains are not a one-time event.

We are fortunate to be part of an industry that never stands still, and that continues to innovate and improve.   In no area is this more evident than in the continued advances in processing technologies from leaders like Intel.

By combining these advances with innovative, market-proven NFV solutions for the mobile core, we have achieved performance gains of as much as 10X over purpose-built mobile core offerings and competitive virtualized offerings.

For those of us at Affirmed Networks seeing this type of performance confirms what we’ve known all along: virtualized network functions (VNFs) that leverage the latest server technology and are architected for high data plane throughput are the best path to building the high-speed, high-capacity networks that 5G will require.

Learn more about the performance advantages of vEPC over legacy hardware in this Intel Performance Report.

10 Tips for a Successful NFV Deployment

by Angela Whiteford Angela Whiteford No Comments

Over the past eight years, Affirmed Networks has helped leading service providers successfully transition to NFV based architectures and realize exceptional returns. Along the way, we’ve learned some valuable NFV deployment lessons on how providers can avoid underwhelming NFV results and realize the technology’s full transformative benefits.

 

Some telecommunications network equipment vendors think that Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is a byproduct of 5G and that the one shouldn’t arrive before the other. Reality says otherwise; many communication service providers are deriving value from NFV initiatives right now, primarily in the form of CAPEX/OPEX savings and network agility. Yet many service providers, in our experience, still only tap into 30 to 40 percent of NFV’s true potential. 

What are the challenges that providers from realizing NFV’s full potential? There is no single reason for preventing NFV’s full potential; rather, it’s likely a combination of missed opportunities and misunderstanding as to NFV’s architectural requirements. 

Affirmed has helped many service providers transition to NFV-based architectures and realize the great returns. We’ve learned some valuable lessons on how providers can avoid the challenges of NFV deployments and underwhelming NFV results and realize the technology’s full transformative benefits.

 

Our Tips for NFV Deployment Success

To help CSPs across the world ensure success for NFV deployments as they prepare for 5G, we have identified 10 key lessons for a successful NFV deployment that we are now sharing in a new paper titled “Lessons Learned on the NFV Front Lines,” that we recently published. The paper highlights many key areas that service providers should take note of as they continue to transform their networks, including:

Not all hardware is created equal:

The belief that you can run virtualized telecom applications on any vendor’s server is only a half-truth. There is one hardware dependency that always needs to be considered: the hardware must have a network interface card (NIC) that supports the data plane development kit (DPDK) in order to function properly. In our experience, we’ve found it’s often better to bundle the virtual network function (VNF) with hardware providers that support this NIC requirement rather than deploy the VNF in a hardware-agnostic environment.

The packet forwarding architecture and hypervisor need attention too

While choosing the appropriate hardware can aid in the performance of your virtualized network, the packet forwarding architecture requires attention as well. The main function of the evolved packet core (EPC) is to move a large number of packets through the data plane. This means you need very high performance in the data plane. Typically, packets travel through the vSwitch function within the hypervisor, which queues them for the virtual machines (VMs). The vSwitch function uses a great deal of computing power, which limits the performance that VMs can achieve. This creates a need for single-root input/output virtualization (SR-IOV) technology to get around this limitation. SR-IOV technology allows the packets to bypass the hypervisor layer and travel directly from the PCI on the server to the VMs, giving the VMs full use of all CPU power and significantly increasing performance.

While SR-IOV is not a requirement for NFV deployments, its role and impact are sometimes misunderstood by White Paper—Lessons Learned on the NFV Front Lines 4 service providers. If a provider requires very high throughput, then SR-IOV is necessary. Furthermore, applications are very sensitive to how the hypervisor is configured and the specific settings it uses. In order to reach maximum performance, service providers must also tune the hypervisor to meet the specific requirements of their application (e.g., tuning how the hypervisor schedules the CPUs, CPU pinning, etc.).

 

Don’t oversubscribe the application

Another important lesson learned is to never oversubscribe a virtual application or the application’s CPU. Even though the technology allows for oversubscription of the application, this ends up degrading the performance of the application and causes problems down the road.

 

NFV isn’t a simple plug-and-play solution

Virtualization is often marketed as plug and play, but in reality, it requires some tuning in the ecosystem for telecom applications to run at maximum performance. For example, in one customer deployment, they experienced a denial-of-service attack that featured a lot of “burstiness” in the traffic. The DPDK driver was indiscriminately dropping packets and causing packet loss because it didn’t have any concept of quality of service (QoS). This required modification of the driver to avoid latency and packet loss. While this may seem like a minor detail, it can have a major impact on performance.

 

Redundancy needs to be built into the application and not just the NFVI architecture

In the enterprise world, redundancy is a relatively simple matter of spinning up a new VM when one VM fails. This works well for stateless, transaction-based applications, but telecom applications are stateful. When you lose the state of the VM, you lose the service. Also, when a VM fails, the time it requires to spin up a new VM is far too long for telecommunications applications and extends the problem of service disruption. In order to provide stateful redundancy in a telecom environment, operators cannot rely only on NFVI redundancy; statefulness needs to be built directly into the virtual application itself or maintained in an externalized database. That’s the approach we took when building our virtualized EPC solution, and it is a very important lesson to remember when talking about NFV.

 

Telecom applications require built-in load balancing

One of the main benefits of a virtual environment is the ability to scale up or scale down your processing power as workload demands change. When decommissioning a VM, however, you lose the state of that VM. In an enterprise environment featuring stateless, transaction-based applications, this is not an issue—but it is an issue in a telecom environment where stateful applications are the norm. Telecom applications that support dynamic scaling need load balancing; this way, when new resources are available, the application can load-balance across the new resources to prevent dropping service during a call/session. We believe load balancing should be built into the application, as the application knows better how to use the resources than an external load balancer.

 

VMs need to scale independently

Scalability is something NFV vendors need to be thinking about before they build their solutions, not after. Specifically, vendors need to ensure that their VNFs can scale independently across different dimensions. In a telecom application, the data plane, management plane and control (i.e., signaling) plane each need to be scaled independently to avoid paying for stranded capacity. In a blade-based architecture, the signaling, data, and management capacity are added in fixed ratios; as more signaling capacity is needed, more blades are added. The result is that service providers end up with more data capacity as well, whether they need it or not. In a virtualized architecture, where independent scaling is supported, providers can scale up signaling capacity without affecting the data or management dimensions. This is why we chose to decompose each plane when we built our vEPC.

Applications need to be designed in a flexible way, allowing the scaling of VMs based on the specific call model or application (e.g., IoT, enterprise, consumer) and the availability of resources. By doing this, service providers can right-size the capacity for the specific call model.

 

Ownership is important

Traditionally, service providers have relied upon their vendors to provide all the layers of a solution. NFV architecture is different. There’s a hardware layer, a hypervisor layer and an application layer to consider, with each vendor bringing their own perspective to the solution. Instead of one finger to point when things go wrong, providers must now point several fingers. This creates a challenge for service providers in managing deployments, as there is no clear accountability. At Affirmed, we’ve countered this problem by taking “ownership” of the NFV experience and ultimate responsibility for the way our vEPC solution behaves in the NFV infrastructure (NFVI) environment. Our customers appreciate having an experienced vendor as a lead implementor who can work with ecosystem partners to resolve any issues.

 

One EMS is better than two (or three)

Service providers are accustomed to a single element management system (EMS) that displays the state of the system (e.g., alarms, traps, etc.) across all solution layers. In an NFV architecture, however, there are separate element managers for each layer. Having an overarching EMS that extends visibility into all layers and manages them as a single pane of glass” is an important capability for any NFV architecture.

 

Take the time to learn from the leaders

Perhaps the most important lesson there is to be learned from the leaders in the NFV journey is not to wait. There are those vendors who will tell you that NFV isn’t ready for prime time. What they’re really saying is that their solutions aren’t ready yet. At Affirmed, we’re building virtualized solutions that give the leading operators of today the competitive advantage they need to remain the leaders of tomorrow. Our cloud-native, 5G-webscale solution not only reduces CAPEX and OPEX but also provides the capabilities for new revenue-generating services including service automation and microservices creation.

 

To gain a better understanding of the insights behind all of these tips for a successful NFV deployment, read the paper in its entirety. For more on Affirmed can help, see our NFV solutions offered.

Why CSPs Should be “Open” to Cloud-Native Architectures

by Angela Whiteford Angela Whiteford No Comments

By now it’s clear that that Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are facing considerable competition from a new breed of market entrants.  To make matters worse, these new players are not playing by the same rules, or are held to the same standards, as those who have provided reliable services to all of us for decades.  With today’s field of play tilted in favor of these new players, what are the communication service provides to do to remain competitive as 5G comes into play?

In short, the answer lies in being open to new approaches and architectures, like cloud-native, that are part of the way networks are becoming virtualized.

While the first wave of virtualization was focused on reducing costs and increasing performance, the second wave has taken us toward cloud-native architectures that can be universally deployed.  But we aren’t done yet.

We believe that in order to effectively take advantage of these new approaches, CSPs should keep in mind three main areas:

  • Cloud-Native architecture
  • Open Source technology
  • Telco-grade functionality

 

Cloud-Native Architectures and Open-Source Technology

When cloud-native architectures are coupled with open-source technology, the benefits are becoming even more profound. Specifically, cloud-native architecture that leverages open-source systems are allowing CSPs to move forward using standardized methods in this new era of building networks that are carrier-grade.

 

Telco-Grade Functionality

When embarking on this new approach the importance of being “Telco-Grade” should not be overlooked.  Telecom networks have stringent requirements in the areas of interoperability, latency, service delivery, and policy management that must be addressed when building a next-gen 5G mobile core.

To be successful, several things must be accounted for, including:

  • Support for Multi-Network Interfaces – to support container environments
  • Data Plane Acceleration – to provide the performance that will be required by 5G workloads
  • Integrated Network Probing – to provide analytics and real-time data without impacting performance
  • Integrated Workflows – to allow efficient creation of new service creation
  • Topology and Environmental Awareness – to handle the unique topologies (edge/core) of telecom networks

 

What it Means for Communication Service Providers

By deploying a cloud-native platform that leverages open source technology and delivers web-scale performance, speed and simplicity, CSPs can move confidently with their transformation, while keeping themselves open to all the possibilities and opportunities that 5G will provide.

To learn more about how Affirmed Networks can support CSPs in this area, read our recent paper, An Open Approach to Building 5G Networks.”

The Importance of Performance as Operators Race to 5G

by Angela Whiteford Angela Whiteford No Comments

Today, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are facing competition on many fronts while continuing to operate in an industry in the midst of one of its most significant transformations it has ever faced. While industry pundits have many ideas in terms of what is needed to compete in this changing environment, the un-ending growth of data on networks globally is making it critical for CSPs to focus on improving both the scale and performance on their network.

The types of performance and scalability improvements that are required, however, cannot be achieved through traditional approaches. Mobile service providers need a different model for scaling their networks: one that relies on software rather than hardware to cost-effectively grow the network.

As a trusted provider to CSPs, Affirmed Networks has always been focused on improving the speed and performance of VNFs in the mobile core. We deliver the highest levels of performance across the industry by leveraging the latest advancements and innovations in chipsets and processors developed by partners such as Intel. To prove this point, recent joint testing with Intel achieved record-breaking performance benchmarks with our vEPC that reached speeds 10X higher than competitive alternatives—over 150 Gbps on a single Intel Xeon server — allowing CSPs to significantly lower their cost per bit.

Achieving these levels of performance will be critical for CSPs to support the high-bandwidth applications such as fixed wireless and augmented/virtual reality.

in the face of increasing competition and an industry in transition, CSPs can feel confident that a focus on turbocharging their network will pay dividends as they race to 5G.

Affirmed Networks Selected to the Inaugural Class of the “GSMA 100”

by Angela Whiteford Angela Whiteford No Comments

Affirmed Networks is pleased to announce that it has been named one of the first companies to be included in the “GSMA 100,” a global innovation initiative developed by the GSMA to identify and advance the next generation of connectivity and digital services. Comprised of the world’s most promising growth-stage companies and selected by mobile operators and investment partners, the GSMA 100 represents operator innovation priorities in key areas such as 5G and networking; consumer experience; data and analytics; the Internet of Things; media and entertainment; and security, among others.

The GSMA 100 companies were nominated by GSMA operator members, ecosystem companies and leading technology. Following a competitive review process, Affirmed Networks earned inclusion among the first 29 companies named to the GSMA 100 and will be participating in a series of events and interactions with top mobile operators and investors prior to the start of the MWC Americas event taking place in Los Angeles next week.

As a company focused on the needs of our customers as they transform their networks to the virtualized networks that will support 5G, Affirmed is honored to receive this recent distinction from such an esteemed group, and one of the leading groups driving the future of our industry.

Deployed in over 85 networks worldwide including Tier 1 operators such as AT&T, Vodafone, Telus, Etisalat, Softbank, and Turkcell, Affirmed Networks’ webscale solutions allow operators to transform the economics of deploying and scaling 3G, 4G, 5G and WiFi mobile services.

We would like to thank the GSMA and its members for selecting us as part of this inaugural group and would like to congratulate the other members who will be joining us at this event.

If you are attending MWC Americas, please stop by to see us in in booth W.802 to learn about how you can benefit from Affirmed’s mobile solutions.

For further information on the GSMA 100, visit: www.gsma.com/aboutus/gsma-100.