Most, But Not All, Sing the Praises of Network Virtualization

Carl Weinschenk

Network virtualization is on the short list of most vital technologies being developed and implemented today. It is possible to make a case for several being the most important, but virtualization offers an impressive litany of advantages: Faster and less expensive fulfillment of customer orders, lower long-term capital investment, and the ability for subscribers to self-fulfill orders at the top of the list.

Heavy Reading has released a study on the state of virtualization, looking at planning, deployment and spending. The press release offers very detailed findings in each category. The sponsors are clearly not relying on providing access to the top line findings to sell the report.

On the planning level, the percentage of communications service providers (CSPs) who have identified all the functions they plan to virtualize by 2020 grew from 11 percent to 15 percent between November 2016 and April 2017. The top finding in the deployment category was that the portion of CSPs with one-quarter of high priority virtualized functions in production rose from 13 percent to 21 percent during the same period. On the spending side, the percentage of responding companies devoting 10 percent or more of their capex budgets to virtualization rose from 41 percent to 58 percent during the period.

It may be that seeking to identify the most important emerging technology is fruitless. The reality likely is that they are codependent parts of the same network elephant. 5G is often said to be the most important emerging technology. However, Verizon sees network functions virtualization and software-defined networks (NFV and SDN) as important building blocks of its 5G rollout, according to SDxCentral. In other words, they’re all different parts of the same big picture.


Cisco’s NFV equipment was involved in recent 5G testing and AT&T, which this month announced the purchase of the Vyatta network operating system from Brocade, has reiterated that software-related approaches are important in its conception of 5G.

There is resistance to the idea that network virtualization is inevitable, however. Eyal Felstaine, the head of Amdocs’ Technology Office, suggests that the bloom is off the virtual rose:

So far, few – if any – operators have been able to reap the much-vaunted benefits of NFV/SDN virtualization. Instead of cost-savings, they have seen mounting integration costs. Instead of building open, multi-vendor networks, they still find themselves tied to individual suppliers. And because networks aren’t all that open, creating an ongoing string of innovative services has remained nothing more than a pipedream.

The three challenges, according to Felstaine, are the reluctance of the industry to move to open source, the lack of network automation, and the softer problems tied to breaking through of tradition and embedded culture.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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