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data center researchIt’s all too easy for network operators of all sizes to bury their heads in the sand of the technology landscape and think that so many new technologies don’t apply to them. But doing so in the case of IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) would be to ignore the two biggest turning points in the modern telecom arena. Those operators could be missing out on cost savings and operational benefits and, more importantly, an opportunity to bring true innovation to their networks and customers.

NFV for Everyone?
The benefits of NFV are well-documented. According to ETSI’s original white paper on NFV in 2012, they include:

  • Reduced equipment costs and reduced power consumption through consolidating equipment and exploiting the economies of scale of using general-purpose computing platforms instead of specialized telecom appliances.
  • Increased speed of time to market by minimizing the typical network operator cycle of innovation.
  • Opex savings because NFV allows network operators to share resources and services across different customer bases. In a virtualized environment, a single computing platform can be used for different applications, users and tenants.
  • Targeted service introduction based on geography or customer sets is possible. Services can be rapidly scaled up/down as required.
  • Openness and the avoidance of vendor lock-in. As the ETSI white paper on NFV pointed out, “it opens the virtual appliance market to pure software entrants, small players and academia, encouraging more innovation to bring new services.”

For the most cost-constrained operator, there’s now the chance to have an entire network mirrored in a lab, which is something that would have required significant capex outlay before NFV. Without the cost and administration overheads normally associated with acquiring and installing trial equipment into labs, service providers can operate a faster-paced “fast-fail” mode. Use existing servers, fire up virtual machines, and run the new features you want to trial and really see what can work for your network and customers. No additional cabling, no additional power, no hassle.

NFV does indeed represent a new set of skills and new a domain of knowledge to understand in an area that’s more IT than telecom. However, more service providers have already got virtualization skills within their organization, particularly in smaller organizations, where there’s greater overlap between IT and telecoms staffing. By capitalizing on their own internal IT knowledge, even small network operators may find they’re already one step closer to becoming software telcos.

IMS: It’s (Not) Complicated
There might be a network operator out there thinking, “IMS — I can ignore that; it’s not aimed at me.” Well, you can’t. IMS represents the very thing that will allow network operators of all sizes to to exploit new and innovative services and draw in new subscribers. It is a framework for network operators to consider, particularly when deploying a new SIP-based core network or interconnects or the highly relevant 700-800 MHz mobile broadband. IMS will take time to implement, but it does enable the build-out of a best-of-breed multi-vendor network, and growing in a manner akin to the larger carriers.

Putting It All Together
NFV and IMS were made for each other. Before today’s virtualization options were available, it was easy to dismiss IMS as something that would cause too much upheaval, would be too costly or would be too hard to learn. But that’s changed.

Now, NFV enables everyone to try IMS and be less fearful of it. IMS is one of the most logical things to virtualize first in your network and use in your labs to test new services. With open-source efforts like Project Clearwater, a virtualized IMS core, you can get some real-world experience operating a virtualized network function and get some early adopters using some new IMS-based service (e.g., a telco OTT play, or perhaps some new apps offered by industry innovators such as Tropo or Telestax).

As I said in the beginning, there’s a temptation for some network operators, especially smaller operators, to think that this doesn’t apply to them. The problem, though, is that competition is really tough for communications services and telcos don’t have the luxury of many years to spend putting off the inevitable or hoping for the perfect set of circumstances to line up.

Network operators need to adopt the same kind of approach toward NFV as the Internet application world has done for social networks, video delivery and other services. Start small, do things incrementally, and see what works and what doesn’t. You can have that approach in the way you build applications and, thanks to built-for-the-cloud IMS solutions and the advent of NFV, the the way you create infrastructure and transform your network, too.


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One thought on “What NFV and IMS Can Do for You

  1. We see NFV as necessary to build the elastic, scalable infrastructure. But NFV truly lacks an elastic business model (vendors want to sell you something and generally not for less). The cloud is the true path forward as it fundamentally transforms the business model to risk-free, success-based pricing vs build it and (we hope) they come.

    Read more: http://www.alianza.com/nfv-is-necessary-but-not-s

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