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Six Years Of NFV - Why So Pessimistic?!
December 01, 2018 | By Karim Rabie @ Saudi Telecom Company
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We are pleased to share with you all an interesting article contributed by Karim Rabie who is Mobile Core Consultant | Telco Cloud Advisor | OPNFV EUAG Member.

 
 

Karim Rabie

Senior PS Core / EPC Consultant at Saudi Telecom Company

 

 

All Articles by Karim Rabie

 
     
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I am writing this article on the way back home from Berlin after attending the Berlin OpenStack summit. I am on economy and the flight got delayed for 5 hours. I guess these are the perfect conditions to talk about NFV :). This marks as the 4th Openstack summit I attend in 2 years (Barcelona, Boston, Sydney, & Berlin). Five years back, if you’d have told me that I would be attending an Openstack summit, most probably, I wouldn’t have understood What is openstack? What is the stack? Why is it open? This clearly shows the impact that NFV made on the Telecom Community so regardless on how you perceive the technology nowadays, It is fair to acknowledge that it helped a lot in changing the telecom/network mindset to become more software oriented and take a step towards digital transformation.

 

It all started in October, 2012 at the “SDN and Openflow World Congress” in Darmstadt-Germany with the NFV White paper publish and since that time, NFV/SDN technology has encountered ups and downs when it comes to progress and adoption. Things looked promising with all these operators and big names collaborating to standardize what is thought to be an operators-led technology. Though it is relatively slow but now there are some solid ETSI NFV standard APIs, templates, & Descriptors that both Operators and Vendors are starting to adopt. The slowness comes from the fact that ETSI is a standardization organization so any release cycle follow the same slow model used by other Standardization bodies and for legacy technologies (Think of 3GPP as an example).

 

Below is a review of the ETSI NFV Reference Architecture & corresponding areas of focus.

 


Then why is there negative energy in the air when it comes to NFV? why one always gets the impression that the community is pessimistic?! Ok, I am not pessimistic but I acknowledge that there are reasons behind that. I am listing below some of them.

 

  • Technology Fragmentation - Unlike the 3GPP Specs that are "seen" as the sole source of standardization for Mobile Networks; NFV Technology was not that lucky. The community is full of organizations, initiatives, and groups that are much intersecting and sometimes nearly doing same things with different approaches. These groups are working without a proper alignment and sometimes, politically fighting. This has caused confusion for many operators who were keen to start the NFV/SDN Journey. What model to follow? What architecture to adopt? What group to join?
  • Telco Vendors FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, & Doubt) Strategy - It was very hard for Telco giants to accept the fact that their applications (VNFs) may run on an OpenStack market distribution with an IT Hardware Server (COTS) so they used the “Fear” method to convince Telco Operators that performance and SLAs can’t be guaranteed unless you get a “Reference Architecture” from the Telco Vendor himself. So, instead of promoting openness and working with the community on mutual testing programs and global ecosystem programs, Telco Vendors chose the easiest way by crafting their own Openstack, investing on their Hardware, & build a VNF/NS LCM portfolio. This has definitely prevented Operators from having Open Telco Clouds and implicitly presented the Vendor-lock case that is there in many NFV deployments.
  • The Organization transformation - Adopting NFV/SDN should be a step towards Digital Transformation and for that, the Old Organization that used to run legacy business needs to change in terms of structure, mindset, & Skillset. A direct reason for NFV Failure is that Operators keep their existing organization structure with the same functional teams’ roles in a way that would never enable any success for NFV or any similar disruptive technology.
  • A hatful of Buzz words - Unfortunately, there are many terms used within the community being shared in a completely misleading manner and that’s something has always confused the individuals and the enterprises and discourage the NFV/SDN adoption in general. Vendor (A) comes and says that X is an apple and then vendor (B) says it is a dolphin. It always happens to me when I visit my customers, I only take 5 minutes to realize that Vendor (A) or Vendor (B) were here.

My Tip, if you are an operator, ask your vendor

to start any set of slides with a definition

of the terms used in the presentation.

That includes Agility, Flexibility,

Cloudification, Cloud native, etc.!

 

  • No Strategy for Monetization - Many Operators got inside the game with a technical motivation, maybe market branding, Capex/OpEx reduction, etc. but the problem that all these motivations didn’t, and don’t commonly generate revenues. It resembles the VoLTE case, a lot of CapEx/OpEx investment but at the end the end user doesn’t care much if he is on VoLTE or CSFB and he is not going to pay for such upgrade that enabled a better voice quality (debatable) and a shorter Call establishment time. I’d recommend always having a B2B service in the First/second year of NFV Deployments (SD-WAN for example, why not?!). Generate some revenue and make the C-Level happy and eager to continue the investment.
  • Politics in the community – Sometimes, I feel that spreading negative energy through articles, posts, & events is an implicit way to force the community to follow a certain direction. Although that some negative insights are 100% true and brings benefits to the community but when you go deeply with the community talks, events, & activities; you start to observe the biased reviews clearly. So, let' stay Neutral!

So, what is the way forward? The answer is

“Forward”. There is no way back!
 

NFV is a main ingredient of 5G, an enabler for Edge Computing, and a base for building the futuristic Telco Cloud so it is not a case of backing the wrong horse and it won’t be.

 

The main problem in my opinion is that operators get unrealistic expectations from vendors with generic terms such as agility, scalability, etc. without clear definitions and that brings the disappointment after the project is started .. where is the agility? Where is the CapEx reduction? etc.

 

NFV is an Operator-led industry; Sharing lessons learned and driving the industry forward is a community duty but frankly, spreading negative thoughts using generic terms doesn’t help and I hope we don't allow such negative thoughts to stop our progress. On the contrary, Sincere Lessons learnt must be taken into consideration.

 

What is also to be taken into consideration is that NFV is not an ultimate goal by itself and it is seen as a preliminary step towards digital transformation so enterprises can have their own paths to achieve their goals but that doesn't make the other paths untaken, wrong ones.

 

It is almost midnight and the plane is approaching Cairo airport and now it is time to stow the tray table. Let's hope for the best!

 
     
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