Why Service Providers are Taking the TLA Approach

Every couple of years, there seems to be a new crop of TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that appear in the telecom industry, most of which overpromise and under-deliver. Today, I’d like to focus on two TLAs—network function virtualization and software-defined networking—that buck the trend, and represent permanent, fundamental change in the industry.

NFV and SDN both touch on a similar concept—that virtualizing the network core, network traffic and administration is superior in every way to legacy networking. Traffic flows across a software-defined network dynamically, choosing the shortest path to its destination. Traffic to and from business-critical applications—say, financial transactions—can be given the fast lane, over traffic from less-important applications. New networking equipment, and network endpoints, connect effortlessly, and can be administered faster than legacy alternatives.

Facing declining revenues in their traditional business lines and struggling to compete in the crowded cloud services market, telecom operators in particular are looking to increase their reliance on SDN and NFV in 2016, according to a recent report from analysts at Technology Business Research.

SDN and NFV can help carriers reduce costs and gain agility in service offerings, according to the report. Operators who move now can gain time-to-market advantage, helping them attract enterprise customers before SDN and NFV become more common.

That pressure is particularly acute in the regional telecom market, which is among the most advanced and highly competitive in the world. Cloud-based competitors are increasingly reaching into the regional market, forcing telecom companies to upgrade its offerings to stay relevant, agile and secure.

Adopting an agile networking architecture that supports growth is essential. It’s literally the backbone of a successful competitive strategy.

SDN and NFV are interesting, because they allow telecom companies to accelerate their deployment of new applications. While the industry has done a good job evolving the networking protocols to support various application needs, there remain a great deal of complexity, making the environment fragile, subject to instability and slow recovery following an outage.

While SDN is inherently better able to address these challenges, Avaya believes the industry needs to first fix the foundation before attempting to mask the level of complexity associated with deploying services end-to-end.

Nodal configuration using legacy protocols carries inherent risks, due to configuration complexity and implementation that requires multiple nodes to be reconfigured. As a result, enterprises normally go through off-production lab testing and validation, with a maintenance window to apply changes. Misconfiguring a node can be as simple as a single incorrectly typed script, or a wrong port number triggering a loop in the network.

By moving to a services-based architecture, focusing on point-of-services provisioning as opposed to a nodal model, customers finally gain the agility and simplicity they have been looking for. But moving CLI scripting to SDN programming does not necessarily deliver on customer expectations. Hence why Avaya took a different approach by solving the control plane issues by introducing at the edge of its architecture the ability to interface with other SDN controllers, while maintaining a simplified, end-to-end, single-protocol architecture based on standard, IEEE protocol shortest-path bridging (SPB 802.1aq).

Avaya’s competitors for the most part are not enabling end-to-end services, instead focusing on the data center and ignoring the big picture. Building a software-defined network on multiple proprietary legacy protocols is inherently flawed.

By visualizing the enterprise and moving to a services-based architecture, other virtualized network services defined as NFV can easily be integrated. Hence, a firewall service, a session border controller, or other services can easily be integrated with the already-virtualized networking infrastructure. In addition, by moving away from nodal configuration, the risk of IP DoS attacks and hacking is greatly reduced as Ethernet topology is used to establish communications to IP services, contrary to other vendors that continue to go hop-by-hop.

Operators need to think about evolution not revolution. It’s imperative that operators maintain their current assets while evolving toward SDN. Service providers need to carefully evaluate the various solutions available. Avaya is leading the way in providing the best and fastest transition toward an SDN-enabled architecture without forcing a complete forklift.