Broadband Network Operators Thinking Hard About Virtualization

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    The Five Dos and Don’ts of Virtualization

    The promise of virtualized networks and services – brought to fruition by software-defined networks and network functions virtualization (NFV and SDN) – is bright.

    The use of virtualization technology makes a huge amount of sense when it enables repetitive tasks to be done from a centralized location. In addition to more efficiently using network resources, it frees up manpower and resources.

    An example is residential gateways, which are beginning to replace at least some of the set-top boxes (STB) used to provide to cable and telco subscribers. Lightreading reported this week on a study by Alcatel-Lucent that found operating costs can be cut by as much as 40 percent by virtualization. Taking this task into the cloud simply makes more sense, according to the story:

    A virtualized residential gateway (vRGW) moves functions such as IP routing and network address translation (NAT) into the cloud, centralizing management and control and reducing operations costs.

    It looks like a win across the board, according to the company. It cuts fulfillment costs 7 percent to 12 percent, speeds activation and product introduction, cuts expensive home calls by technicians, and reduces service assurance costs 63 percent to 67 percent. Lifecycle management costs are reduced 66 percent.

    The cable industry is currently working through various virtualization options for its converged cable access platform (CCAP), a next-generation device that combines video and data capabilities in one platform. The decisions involve where in the network to put various functions. According to Jeff Baumgartner at Multichannel News, three options are under consideration. Each involves divvying up functionality and putting it in different places in the network:

    Arris recently conducted a study that looked at the pros and cons of each approach, and picked 26 attributes that, Arris believed, are among the most important to the cable operator. That was then divided into four broader areas: operational cost management, operational ease of use, infrastructure compatibility, and design simplicity (which factored in vendor time-to-market). Arris’s engineers then applied scores that weighed how well each architecture served each.

    The bottom line is that the new networks are extremely flexible. Michael Kloberdans, the lead architect for Home Networking at CableLabs, provided an example of the type of flexibility that virtualized customer-premises equipment can provide. A video at Telecom TV showed Kloberdans using a Raspberry Pi as an abstracted home gateway. The service functionality was enabled within using Docker containers. The subscriber can easily self-provision – with the lion’s share of functionality remaining in the cloud.

    Broadband operators have lots of subscribers. Many of the services that these customers use are similar. Being able to highly automate these processes – and do so from a centralized point far from the home – will save them money and improve efficiency.

    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 [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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