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10 Tips for a Successful NFV Deployment

by Affirmed Affirmed 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. 

In terms of NFV challenges, what is it that typically holds providers back 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 to pass along to  providers. Our tips can help service providers avoid the challenges of an NFV deployment 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 tips to overcome challenges  for a successful NFV deployment in 2020. 

  1. Not all hardware is created equal
  2. The packet forwarding architecture and hypervisor need attention too
  3. Don’t oversubscribe the application
  4. NFV isn’t a simple plug-and-play solution
  5. Redundancy needs to be built into the application and not just the NFVI architecture
  6. Telecom applications require built-in load balancing
  7. VMs need to scale independently
  8. The packet forwarding architecture and hypervisor need attention too
  9. Ownership is important
  10. One EMS is better than two (or three)

 

#1 Not all hardware is created equal:

There is a belief that you can run virtualized telecom applications on any vendor’s server – however, this 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.

 

#2 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 an NFV deployment, its role and impact are sometimes misunderstood by 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.).

 

#3 Don’t oversubscribe the application

Another important NFV deployment tip 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.

 

#4 NFV isn’t a plug-and-play solution

While virtualization is often marketed as plug and play, the reality is that it requires some tuning in the ecosystem for telecom applications to run at maximum performance. For example, in one NFV deployment, a customer 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.

 

#5 – 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 – a challenge for many service providers. 

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.

 

#6 – 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.

 

#7 – VMs need to scale independently

NFV vendors need to be thinking about scalability 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, independent scaling is supported, meaning providers can scale up signaling capacity without affecting the data or management dimensions. This is the reason 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.

 

#8 – Ownership is important

Service providers have traditionally 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, service providers must now point several fingers. This creates a challenge for providers in managing NFV deployments, as there is no clear accountability. 

At Affirmed, we’ve encountered 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.

 

#9 – 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 core solution, UnityCloud, not only reduces CAPEX and OPEX but also provides the capabilities for new revenue-generating services including service automation and microservices creation.

Learn more about NFV deployments with this whitepaper we published.

Unlock Your Innovation Using Open Source PaaS Technology

by Ashwin Moranganti Ashwin Moranganti No Comments

It’s time to take the future back from equipment vendors and return it to the operators and the innovators!

Coming from a vendor, that’s a bold statement, so let me explain. For too long, telco operators have leaned on their equipment vendors to provide their platform of the future. Understand this: If you’re looking to a single vendor to solve your problems, you’re looking to get locked into someone else’s future. Instead, telco operators need to stop leaning on a single source, and learn to unlean by using open-source PaaS (Platform as a Service) technology and best-of-breed solutions from many vendors.

At Affirmed, we call this disaggregation. Even in a network where hardware has been virtualized, there is still a lot of proprietary functionality found in so-called virtualized network functions (VNFs). Disaggregation proposes reducing these VNFs down to their application logic and delivering everything else through a common, shared open-source PaaS: lifecycle management, databases, service mesh, monitoring, logging, etc. Disaggregation dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of the network, and gives operators the agility they need to rapidly create and innovate in the coming 5G environment.

 

Disaggregation Will Help Telco Operators Moving Forward

The idea of Disaggregation is, of course, very different from how many telco operators have constructed their networks in the past. Historically, telco networks were built using a mix-and-match approach from various vendors. Each vendor’s solution had their own CLI, database, lifecycle management, redundancy scheme and so on. Operators, in turn, learned how to use all these different tools, and were (not surprisingly) afraid to add new vendors to the mix for fear that they wouldn’t “fit” into their existing architecture. This approach didn’t encourage innovation, but stifled it.

With server virtualization, telco operators began to see the value of simplification and unification. But the real value of virtualization occurs when operators move beyond hardware and virtualize their underlying services platform. For example, in order to orchestrate the VNFs, the operator builds a multivendor orchestration system, which then needs to communicate with vendors’ proprietary VNF managers. Instead, what if all vendors simply delivered components as containers and the operator used widely adopted Kubernetes to orchestrate the containers? The same goes for service mesh, monitoring, logging and other services. Instead of operating a network designed by dozens of different vendors, you have a simple, shared architecture that features a common design and elements.

Disaggregation is at the heart of Affirmed’s new 5GC mobile core platform. Designed around open-source technology, 5GC leverages a shared PaaS architecture that allows telco operators to virtualize their networks for much higher efficiencies, improved agility and rapid delivery of new and innovative services. We see it as the difference between being a leaner and a leader. We don’t want our customers to lean on us for their future. We want to lead them to the future, which we strongly believe is open-source, cloud-native technology from the world’s most innovative companies.

Vendors still have an important role to play in the future, provided their relationship with telco operators is re-imagined around the reality that change and churn aren’t the enemy, but the opportunity. By building a software architecture around microservices and a standard PaaS layer, telco operators and their vendors can strategically respond to change and churn with agility and success. If telco operators expect to stay one step ahead in the race to 5G revenue, opening their network to more innovation is the single most important thing they can do.

The Importance of Performance in a 5G World

by Affirmed Affirmed 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 network performance benefits as well?

5G Network Performance

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. This 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). 5g network performance will be required across all areas of the network, especially the mobile core.

And, these network 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 network 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.

Affirmed Networks Awarded Highest Honor as Part of Intel Network Builders Program

by Amit Tiwari Amit Tiwari No Comments

Last year Intel announced the Intel® Network Builders Winners’ Circle—a program for partner companies working to accelerate network transformation using Intel technology to optimize their solutions. Last week at the SDN NFV World Congress event, Intel announced the first finalists of the program at the Intel Network Builders Summit, which coincided with the SDN NFV World Congress event, attracting more than 1700 industry participants, taking place in the event in the Hague, Netherlands.

As part of this first-ever event, Intel evaluated more than 240 projects, for consideration across three award levels: Leaders’ Board, Solution Plus Partner, and Solution Partner.

Of the 64 projects that were awarded a place in the Winners Circle, we are pleased to announce that Affirmed Networks was one of just 20 companies to join the Leaders Board, the program’s highest level.

As a company committed to working with strategic partners like Intel to ensure the highest levels of success and performance for our customers, we are extremely honored to achieve the program’s distinction. As a company, we have continually invested in building the industry’s most complete ecosystem focused on driving performance and accelerating deployments. We would like to congratulate all of the companies that were recognized as part of the Network Builders Program, especially our partners who joined us in the Winner’s Circle, including Canonical, Dell, HPE, Red Hat and VMware.

The goal of the Winners’ Circle is to deliver technical leadership, advance open source standards, and collaborate with end users to drive innovation. Requirements for selection to the Intel Network Builders Winners’ Circle included open source contributions, published benchmarks and deployments to Communication Service Providers (CommSPs).

About Intel Network Builders

Intel® Network Builders is an ecosystem of independent software vendors (ISVs), operating system vendors (OSVs), original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs), system integrators, and communications service providers coming together to accelerate the adoption of network functions virtualization (NFV)- and software defined networking (SDN)-based solutions in telecommunications networks and public, private enterprise, and hybrid clouds.

Affirmed Networks Outlines How Communications Service Providers can Win the Race to Revenue

by Affirmed Affirmed No Comments

With Communications Service Providers (CSPs) facing competition from all fronts – traditional service providers, cloud providers and over-the-top (OTT) providers –to effectively compete they need to transform both their networks AND their business.

To help them address these challenges, Affirmed Networks has published a new whitepaper that outlines the ways CSPs can leverage the latest technologies and architectures to accelerate service creation and reduce network costs.

The whitepaper, titled “Winning the Race to Revenue: How NFV/Cloud Solutions Drive Revenue Today and Turbocharge Your Path to 5G” outlines five proven strategies that will allow CSPs to successfully compete against increasing competition which are:

  1. Maximize your network’s speed and performance with network solutions that are architected specifically for an NFV/cloud environment.
  2. Rev up your top-line revenue and bottom-line profitability by accelerating your time to market for new services and lowering your total cost of ownership.
  3. Drive transformation with a complete solution that is already built to win
  4. Don’t get behind the wheel of an unproven concept
  5. Recognize that you can’t win the race alone, team with a proven partner.

In the coming days and weeks, Affirmed Networks will continue to provide additional perspectives on the challenges, strategies, and opportunities, for CSPs to capture lucrative new revenue streams and fully realize the potential that 5G offers.

Affirmed Networks is hoping to help CSPs do to increase their chances of success in this “race.”  To keep on top of the latest content, news, and opinions related to this topic please be sure to continue to check back here.

Good luck!