Making virtual a reality – the natural next step

Making virtual a reality – the natural next step towards networks that can adapt

27 May 2020 | Jamie Jefferies

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Jamie Jefferies

Blog Author | vice president and general manager of EMEA, Ciena

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If the recent situation has taught us anything, it is the intrinsic value of ubiquitous connectivity – both at work and in our private lives.

Without virtual meetings, many businesses wouldn’t be able to operate right now, and it’s the same for many of us who are relying on video calls to stay in touch with our loved ones.

However, despite the current circumstances putting a spotlight on virtualised services, it’s far from a new trend, especially for businesses who rely on connectivity.

With emerging tech trends placing additional demands and new complexity on global networks, businesses are looking for simple, adaptable, and future-proofed deployments - and this is where virtualised networks really come into their own.

In simple terms, network virtualisation is the migration of network functionality from hardware to software. For our customers, that can mean replacing dedicated, hardware-based network appliances with general-purpose servers.

Software is installed on these servers, which enable network functions that were previously performed on legacy hardware. This process is called Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and it has been used extensively to reduce cost, complexity and accelerate service deployment for service providers by moving functions to multi-function commodity servers.

Today, service providers are deploying a variety of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs)—like firewalls, routers, and SD-WAN—to offer value-added managed services; however, manual operational processes result in long order-to-service intervals and high operational expenditures that threaten both competitiveness and profitability.

The problem is that traditionally, deploying and managing software-defined services was a slow, cumbersome, and manual process that hampers innovation, delays deployment, and slows time to revenue. In today’s business world, these delays can be a huge differentiator for service providers, as they strive to deliver SLAs to their customers.

Enter virtual edge automation, which is designed to streamline and accelerate the initial launch and lifecycle management of NFV-based network services by leveraging functionality, like built-in wizards to onboard services automatically, simply, and rapidly.

Virtual edge automation services also provide a launching point into Edge Compute use cases, like mobile infrastructure, video delivery, and enterprise hybrid cloud solutions that require advanced automated intelligence. In essence, they make virtualising key network functions quick and easy, while enabling edge computing functionality.

Another key requirement for networks today is the capability to support adaptive networking principles. Migrating from legacy, single-function networking hardware to general-purpose servers offers truly programmable infrastructure that allows businesses to add functionality and deploy updates when and where it’s needed.

In addition, because this programmable layer is managed automatically, it can also build and repair itself, as well as reroute traffic around faults or to optimise network asset utilisation. With virtual edge automation, all this is happening closer to the end users at the edge of the network, which means they will benefit from the effects of this adaptation quicker, helping service providers meet and guarantee their SLAs for uptime and increase deployment speed.

On top of the ability to deploy additional functionality and bandwidth, as well as the automated repair and building of new network environments, is the ability to harness the power of advanced analytics within the network. Fast-evolving virtualised networks may seem complex, but they also contain a wealth of information that enables businesses to make smart decisions to drive growth.

Service providers can use these analytics to identify usage trends and service-affecting congestion, visualises these issues to support root cause analysis, predict future patterns, recommends ways to re-optimise resources, and automatically adapts resources within strict policy rules.

Ultimately, the decision to leverage software-driven virtualisation should be made by understanding that hardware-defined networking realistically isn’t going anywhere soon, and for good reason. For many businesses, it delivers a good enough service, and will continue to do so.

In some applications, hardware-based solutions are required to provide extreme level of performance that is not currently possible on general-purpose hardware. Adaptive networking principles can be applied to either hardware-defined, software-driven networking or even a combination of both.

In addition, while there are some great cost benefits, both tangible and intangible, migrating to NFV can be a costly expense, so businesses need to understand the short and long-term benefits and impact.

In an increasingly virtualised world, the need for networks to adapt and deliver enhanced autonomous performance optimisation is increasingly important. This is arguably considerably simpler, more adaptable, open and future-proofed to deploy using virtualised networking functionality at the edge.

So, if you want a network that delivers the latest functionality at the best possible value, virtual should be your new reality.