A powerful force is waiting to be unleashed. Software defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are already acknowledged as exciting possibilities in the world of telecom and media. Leading providers, such as Verizon Enterprise Solutions and My Republic, along with original equipment manufacturers including Cisco Systems and Ericsson, have unveiled their SDN-based services.
In the near future, all physical devices in the network will undoubtedly be replaced by SDN/NFV. Analysts predicted millions of additional devices on network because of the internet of things (IoT) and smart home intelligent devices, which necessitates the need to automate release and deployment on the networking layer to deploy components and upgrade patches to both the southbound network components and northbound applications. So far, release and deployment is successful on the application layer, but network administrators will be challenged in the near future to manage the surge in demand without a seamless automation solution to manage new devices on the network.
In this article, we’ll take a look at various real-life scenarios to build a business case to solve bigger problems in networking—including reducing overall provisioning time, mean time to recover from failure, round-trip time for a packet to enable a usable application or time to free up/repurpose a network resource—that apply to all edge technologies. The solution lies in leveraging DevOps container-based solutions and scaled agile and SDN/NFV controller engine module customizations, and a non-prescriptive approach to products or solutions.
These technologies are the new beasts in the market, but how can SDN go beyond merely saving money for telecom and media companies? How can it provide an enhanced, immersive digital experience, reduce customer churn rate and create new revenue streams? That is where DevOps steps in.
The DevOps Approach to SDN
With mobile, cloud, and IoT creating futuristic applications, consumers require strong underlying network speed and reliability.
The DevOps solution to SDN/NFV is an ideal means for network operators to transition seamlessly from physical networks to futuristic SDN/NFV networks, to provide uninterrupted digital experiences for users, and to achieve high customer retention. DevOps enables a close collaboration between developer and network operators to eliminate many of the pains of introducing new software and services to market. Similar to the system development life cycle, the automated release and deployment process of DevOps enables frequent and incremental updates of network components in near-real time.
The symbiotic relationship between SDN/NFV and DevOps is a dream. The software-defined and virtualized network elements remove the hassles of configuring and upgrading the physical networks’ devices. DevOps adds to this agility and programmability to streamline and shorten the implementation cycles, paving the way for automated service delivery. In turn, SDN and NFV create an elastic network environment, managed from a central location, to program and rapidly deploy new functionality on the network.
Service providers can drastically reduce the time it takes to create and provision those network services, gaining a significant time-to-market advantage that helps them acquire new customers and retain existing ones. In the process, they can achieve higher revenues and cost savings, too.
Creating New Dimensions in the Customer Experience
Tech support has moved from phone to video, but before long, a centralized monitoring system will be able to auto detect and self-heal all issues related to virtual assets on the network. This will provide a more continuous experience for customers. For example, in case of any unexpected service interruption, TV channel providers’ AI-enabled systems will be able to record live programs and play back those interrupted periods to their viewers.
Deploying a vendor-agnostic reliable SDN is a wait-and-watch situation for TV channel operators and telcos. Replacing their physical devices (including the conventional routers and switches) with software-enabled virtual devices will bring down printed circuit board (PCB) replacement costs and other associated maintenance fees. As reliable network bandwidth becomes all the more critical to improving channels’ television rating points (TRP), telecom carriers and TV channel operators are converging.
Digital operators looking beyond TV and telcos anticipate millions of smart home appliances (such as security systems, microwaves, refrigerators and temperature control devices) controlled through the network by users from any remote location. Network administrators want to apply patches and upgrades to any SDN/NFV device, and to proactively fix any network-related issues without bothering their customers. Consumers may be controlling those home appliances from connected cars using mobile devices, so they may not be available physically to read glowing and blinking lights or to reset undecipherable, hard-to-access conventional modems and routers. Network providers are expected to manage millions of devices and provide uninterrupted service, so this paradigm shift, aided by technology transformation, has become imperative not only to reduce the call volumes of help desks but also to retain customers and acquire new ones.
Future-proofing for Technology Shifts
It is important to realize that telco carriers and TV channel operators are no longer merely confined to the communication and entertainment industry. With their scope vastly expanding into managing and controlling millions of household devices on their networks, it is imperative to future-proof technology with automated release-and-deployment processes over the network to support those devices.
Some of the latest DevOps zero-touch release automation (RA) solutions can reduce the overall service provisioning time from months to a few hours. The scope is not just limited to configuring the southbound virtual software devices but may also be required to configure and manage northbound SDN/NFV applications to fulfill the ever-growing market. Having a graphical user interface (GUI)-based orchestration dashboard for network management can enable existing admins to continue without needing to acquire additional, niche skill sets to manage the new, massive networks.
While release automation has been successful on the application layer, it has yet to prove itself on the networking layer. For SDN/NFV, release automation is just an engine that can be fitted into any controller to do virtual local area network provisioning, virtual management of firewalls and network functionalities management. Since there will be a shift from physical devices, there will be a desperate need to automate release and deployment of software versions on such networks.
Adopting a DevOps strategy into SDN deployment requires a cultural shift from the traditional “big-lab,” acceptance-testing mindset to the “here-and-now” daily incremental changes in a live network. It calls for engineers to collaborate in managing the critical network-applications relationships. Consulting skillsets might be needed to assess the extent of customization required for legacy systems and to understand which technology solutions can deploy SDN, NFV and DevOps.
It is clear that this industry will undergo a paradigm shift, and this technology is just crossing the chasm. Early adopters can give themselves an edge by leveraging compelling value propositions.