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Network Slicing

If you plan on serving up network slices quickly, you’ll need the right cooks in the kitchen

by Adam Dorenter Adam Dorenter No Comments

If you look at most telecommunications networks today, they’re divided into a kind of vanilla/chocolate/strawberry mix of services where you may have an enterprise flavor, a standard consumer flavor, and a high-usage consumer flavor. When 5G arrives, however, those networks will need to look a lot more like Baskin-Robbins’ 1,300 flavors. What telcos will do to create those flavors is customize the network experience using thousands of different policy-driven network slices with unique SLAs, security features, latency and bandwidth requirements, pricing, and so on. This blog outlines what network slice management solutions for telco operators and what it should look like in 5G.

Benefits of Network Slicing for Telco Operators

The benefit of network slicing is twofold: to create differentiated services that people will pay for (e.g., high-bandwidth virtual reality slices, low-latency mobile healthcare slices) and more effectively manage network traffic and costs (e.g., IoT and online gaming will clearly have different pricing and priorities). The challenge of network slicing is that this is largely unknown territory for telcos, which are accustomed to cautiously rolling out new services and managing just a handful of pricing models (e.g., unlimited plans, per-gigabyte pricing).

The concept of a network slice technically dates back to 3G, when it was called an access point name (APN). In those days, APNs worked like a giant, best-effort bucket: telco operators would pour their water into a single bucket, poke a bunch of holes in the bottom and customers would get more or less water depending on how big a hole in the bucket they had. From that perspective, I guess you could say that APNs “pail” in comparison to today’s network slicing capabilities.

Network slicing gives operators a much more granular level of control over how they allocate their bandwidth, arguably their greatest asset. They can deliver higher SLAs around revenue-generating apps, give lower priority to video streaming that doesn’t generate revenue for them (ahem, Netflix), wrap security policies around enterprise traffic for added privacy, and so on. Actually, a lot of “so ons” – like thousands of them.

This is very different from the way bandwidth is managed in the 4G world. For example, in a 4G network, there might be one big slice for all consumer services. We’ve even seen telco operators adopt this same model for their initial 5G rollouts. But once you get past the trial stage for 5G, the goal is to increase the number of slices on day two, three, etc. until you have network slices for nearly every imaginable scenario: video gamers, casual users, small business e-commerce, healthcare apps, etc.

Network Slice Management Functions

As you might imagine, how telcos will stand up and manage these slices is a topic of much conversation. Industry organizations such as 3GPP, GSM and ONAP have all weighed in on what they believe slice management should look like in 5G. Basically, it boils down to three key network functions (and you might want to have your alphabet-soup decoder ring on hand for this):

  • CSMF (Communication Service Management Function), which acts as the user interface for slice management;
  • NSMF (Network Slice Management Function), which controls the slice, end to end, across the RAN, transport and core domains (also referred to as subnets);
  • NSSMF (Network Slice Subnet Management Function), which applies the NSMF’s lifecycle management commands (e.g., instantiate, scale, terminate, move) within a particular subnet.

The NSSMF is where most of the slice intelligence resides. It takes a command from the NSMF, such as “build a slice,” and activates it by doing all the behind-the-scenes work of function selection, storage, configuration, and communication. And this brings up another important point that industry organizations have focused on: creating API standards that dictate how all this communication and interaction should take place between the NSSMF and other network elements.

Within 3GPP is a group known as SA5 that is working on a reference architecture for network slice management. We believe it’s in the best interest of every NSSMF vendor to follow these standards (it’s something we’ve done from the beginning with our own NSSMF solution for the mobile core subnet). Why? Because a best-of-breed approach to slice management is the best course of action for most telco operators. Yes, there are vendors that offer a soup-to-nuts solution, but in our experience, no two operators have the same slicing requirements. A one-size-fits-all approach to slicing just doesn’t fit that reality.

We view the best-of-breed approach as following one of two courses. There’s the multi-vendor approach, where operators engage with a bunch of different vendors to populate a complete slice management solution: a RAN NSSMF from vendor A, a transport NSSMF from vendor B, a CSMF from vendor C, etc. And then there’s the standards-driven approach, where an operator engages with an organization like the ONAP Project to build their own network slice management solution. This last approach may have the most potential for success, as we’ve seen in some of our own customer projects.

The Impact of Network Slice Management

Network slice management will have a significant impact on how quickly and effectively operators can monetize their 5G investments. Automation, orchestration, and observability also have important roles to play in the number and kinds of slices your network can spin up. The appetite for customized slices is clearly there. The question is: Do you have the right tools in your kitchen to handle the demand? It’s a topic I’ll discuss further in my continuing series of network slicing blogs.

Affirmed Networks’ 5G EPC Receives Top Ratings by GlobalData

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

We are pleased to announce that, in a research report released this week by analyst firm GlobalData, Affirmed Networks’ 5G vEPC received an overall rating of “very strong.”  Authored by lead analyst, Glen Hunt, the report evaluated Affirmed Networks’ capabilities and offerings across several categories, including: Technology, Go-to-Market, Market Momentum, and Service and Support.

The research effort, which evaluated several market participants independently, lauded Affirmed Networks’ solutions and capabilities across several areas.  Specifically, their recognition praised Affirmed Networks’ market traction with Tier One operators, its cloud-native architecture, which has delivered industry’s leading performance, and the integrated Gi-LAN services and virtual probe capabilities that are part of the solution. The report also cited Affirmed Networks’ continual innovation, specifically in the areas of automation and network slicing that allow operators to address challenges and embrace new service opportunities. The report also acknowledged Affirmed’s “network as a service” model that effectively eliminates “large investments in infrastructure.”

Of the many areas of positive analysis, the report gave Affirmed Networks credit for making “significant inroads with multiple mobile operators, both large and small” and for its innovation that allows the company to deliver the “performance, operational efficiency, and agile mobile core services.”

We are honored to be analyzed so favorably by GlobalData and look forward to extending upon all of our areas of strength in the new year as we continue to help mobile network operators to transform their networks in preparation for 5G.

If You Think Virtualization Is About Saving Money, You’re Missing a Lot

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

What do you think of when you hear the word virtualization? If you’re a mobile carrier, the word “virtualization” likely evokes images of massive appliances being replaced by sleek servers, perhaps with a smiling CFO in the background for added effect. Mind you, it’s not a bad image, but it’s only a small picture of what virtualization can do for your network. In fact, the money you can save by virtualizing your network hardware is small change when compared to the money you could be generating with new services from a fully virtualized mobile platform.

For years, vendors have positioned network functions virtualization (NFV) as a capex reduction play. That’s because most NFV vendors are selling virtualized versions of their legacy hardware, so the main benefit to their customers is cheaper hardware. As a company that has been truly virtualized from the start, Affirmed Networks sees things differently. We didn’t build our virtual mobile core solution just to save you money, but to make you money through agile service creation, automation, network slicing, mobile edge computing and more. If you still think of NFV as a cost-cutting measure, here are six ways that Affirmed’s cloud-native NFV solutions will have you seeing dollar signs instead…

Beat the OTT players at their own game.

OTT players aren’t encumbered by massive networks or painfully slow processes. Their credo is to fail fast and fail often in the pursuit of innovation. It’s their competitive advantage, and it can become yours too with Affirmed’s microservices-centric architecture. We designed our network for agile service creation: stateless database, decomposed services, container-based apps. It lets you quickly build, test and launch new services for small groups (i.e., microservices), which can boost your services revenue by as much as 47%.

Deploy and update services faster with far less effort.

Virtualization reduces capex, but what about opex? For that, you’ll need service automation and service chaining. Affirmed delivers both with its Affirmed Service Automation Platform (ASAP for short). By automating the provisioning and service chaining process, mobile carriers can accelerate their time to market (which can boost service revenue by 13%) and reduce opex by as much as 77%!

Get real-time analytics that really make a difference.

For years, mobile carriers have used physical probes to provide network intelligence. The trouble is, physical probes are expensive and eat up costly network bandwidth. Affirmed is the first company to offer a completely virtualized probe solution, vProbe, that doesn’t require hardware and doesn’t drain your network’s performance. vProbe delivers pervasive, real-time network analytics that can be leveraged to create new services and improve network quality.

Cut your network into profitable slices.

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a big opportunity for those mobile carriers that figure out how to “slice” their network to support a diverse range of new communications devices, from connected cars to life-saving medical devices. Affirmed’s IoT services platform includes pre-built IoT service templates as well as easy-to-use virtual network slicing capabilities based on latency, throughput, security, availability and other requirements, so mobile carriers can deploy and monetize IoT services faster.

Create value-added services to capture more revenue.

With Affirmed’s GiLAN virtualized services environment, mobile carriers can easily create new services using a simple building-block approach. Simply chain together the service features you want (e.g., deep packet inspection, video optimization, proxy services, security) to create new services, from content filtering to ad insertion.

Bring your network experience to the edge.

Moving the mobile core experience to the network edge will be critical to delivering new latency-sensitive, high-bandwidth services such as virtual/augmented reality and self-driving vehicles. Affirmed’s mobile platform supports mobile edge computing, allowing mobile carriers to bring core services closer to the consumer for better, richer experiences.

 

As you can see, virtualization isn’t just a solution to your hardware problem, it’s a solution to your “how are we going to compete and thrive in the future” problem. At Affirmed Networks, we see virtualization as a cost saver and a revenue driver. If you’re having a conversation about virtualization and the word “innovation” isn’t part of it, you need to be talking to us.

Cloud Native: Why Cloud Readiness Matters Right Now

by Ashwin Moranganti Ashwin Moranganti No Comments

Cloud-native architecture. The words themselves are likely to elicit a range of reactions, from apathy (“Do we even need that?”) to annoyance (“Don’t we have enough to do?”). In fact, the words should be music to the ears of mobile service providers—because “cloud-native” is a must-have for 5G.

 

What Does Cloud-Native Mean? A Definition and Examples:

“Cloud-native” isn’t marketing hype and it isn’t a complicated architectural template. The Cloud-native 5G NG Core was designed from the ground up to support the speed, scale and service requirements of the future, much in the same way that Amazon, Google, Netflix, and other cloud leaders have already done. In the simplest of definitions, a cloud-native 5G NG Core has three main characteristics:

  • It breaks traditional, monolithic network functions into microservices that are autonomous, replaceable/changeable and stateless;
  • It stores these microservices into containers that can be easily moved, arranged and managed;
  • It uses a common management tool such as Kubernetes to dynamically orchestrate the various virtual network functions (VNFs) rather than using proprietary vendor VNF managers.

From a consumer standpoint, 5G means faster speed, lower latency, and a pervasive IoT (Internet of Everything) fabric, but for mobile operators, 5G is about network slicing, innovation velocity and reducing network operating costs. In order to meet the network demands of 5G, operators need a web-scale infrastructure with dynamically reconfigurable software services –similar to what the Amazon and Google have for cloud services.

The payoff of a cloud-native 5G NG Core is enormous. It allows you to develop and deploy new services/applications much faster using continuous Agile and DevOps methodologies, gives you a network that can hyperscale efficiently (because the NFs are stateless) and provides more agility and flexibility by moving microservices into Docker containers that can be centrally orchestrated through an open-source tool such as Kubernetes. As you can see, a cloud-native architecture doesn’t compete with the goals of NFV/5G, it supports them and in many cases turbocharges them.

 

Yes, you can try to build an NFV/5G network without a cloud-native architecture. But, sooner or later, you’re going to hit a wall in terms of the performance, scale and cost savings you achieve. Cloud-native isn’t a question of “If,” but “When.” If your NFV/5G vendor doesn’t have a clear path to cloud-native capabilities in their solutions today, you may not have a clear path to creating a cloud-based network in the future. It’s a path we set out on from the beginning when we first designed our virtual EPC to support microservices, containers and service automation/orchestration. If you want a cloud-native core from a leading NFV/5G vendor, talk to us to ensure you don’t find yourself playing an expensive game of cloud catch-up while your competitors lead the way with innovative new services and better customer experiences.

New Whitepaper: 5G Velocity in the Distributed Cloud Era

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

With the 5G era on the horizon, service providers are re-architecting their networks to achieve the levels of performance and scalability required to support this new generation of networks.  To do so, many operators are distributing cloud infrastructure to network edge locations to enable rapid deployment of advanced network services.

Taking a specific look at evolving 4G and emerging 5G mobile networks, Affirmed Networks and Juniper Networks have commissioned a paper by one of the industry’s foremost experts that focuses on how cloud-native/microservices architectures enable service innovation and velocity.

Written by Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst at analyst firm Heavy Reading, the paper makes the case for deploying edge infrastructure in combination with network slicing mechanisms to enable operators to create and deploy granular services, optimized to the use case and customer, using cloud-native network functions and management tools.

The paper not only looks at the new service requirements but also at the correlation between services and the architecture needed to support them.   Some of the many topics explored in detail as part of this paper include:

  • The Service-Based 5G Core Architecture
  • Distributed Cloud-Native Networks
  • Microservices for 4G/5G Core
  • Achieving True Service Velocity

Click here to obtain a copy of the full report.