Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is gaining momentum throughout the cable industry, but the long-term implications of this trend are yet to be seen. Though modern physical infrastructure equivalents are currently the most efficient way of provisioning and optimizing singular services, these hardware-based environments lack opportunities for service providers to customize their networks and address the dynamic and fluctuating bandwidth requirements brought on by booming multimedia services like OTT and P2P content.
So which aspects of virtualization are right for you?
First you should consider the effects on CAPEX. By leveraging NFV on the CMTS/CCAP you can dynamically adjust and optimize specific functions for a flexible period of time. If your subscriber base is forecasted to grow by an amount that doesn’t justify spending money on a new physical CMTS, then there are significant benefits in being able to temporarily increase resources through a virtual instance. This also ensures that you aren’t purchasing hardware resources that will end up being underused after an unexpected boost in bandwidth has subsided. All that said, there are advantages to a virtual CCAP approach which replaces analog nodes with digital counterparts; ultimately providing a path to a pure IP solution over the existing network from headend to node. Using a virtual CCAP can offer efficiency gains in fiber utilization, power requirements, and physical space footprint.
CableLabs is also spearheading a new initiative that suggests the possibility of virtualizing cable modems (vCMs) into cloud-based systems to reduce costs by simplifying much of the intelligence of the devices and offloading them on-demand. The vCM fits nicely into the realm of Software Defined Networking (SDN) via L2VPN, which can dramatically improve the service delivery performance capacity and reduce the amount of errors in setting up complex network connections. The results of this initiative could have a major impact on ISP trends, but configuring, provisioning, and collecting data from virtual CMs is not fully tested or understood. CableLabs is continuing to partner with industry leaders to test this new concept and bring CM virtualization to reality.
NFV aligns with other virtual-design trends, like SDN, to assist with your network operations and innovations. While they are not dependent on one another, SDN mechanisms can be used to complement the goals of NFV by separating control and data functions within a network to optimize traffic management and bandwidth routing via low-level abstraction layers, ultimately reducing the capital expenditures by eliminating wasteful over provisioning. This programmable network logic simplifies NFV compatibility with existing network deployments, and facilitates and automates operational procedures to improve efficiency, speed, and accuracy; reducing OPEX while leveraging your existing control plane.
Operation and Business Support System Function Virtualization (OBSSFV), which run OSS/BSS software tools like provisioning or billing systems, can also be easily migrated from existing hardware spaces to newer hardware with minimal disruption to operational processes — a significant advantage to virtualization. Adding virtual instances in the background of your current systems can provide insurance to network services and reduce the risk of potential physical hardware failures. It is extremely important for network operations that the OSS/BSS solutions are able to be virtualized to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and provide a framework for rapid service recovery.
From a data provisioning and services perspective, NFV shouldn’t affect the way service APIs or other provisioning and management tools will run on your network. If set up correctly, a virtualized instance will react to software tools the same way as its hardware equivalent.
With the implications of NFV, SDN, OBSSFV, and the advancements of DOCSIS 3.1 and new broadband network protocols, this is an exciting time for the cable industry. We’re looking forward to seeing where these latest developments take us so that we can help you decide which aspects of virtualization, among other trends, are right for you.