"Network functions are today generally deployed in operator networks as node-based equipment", says Ericsson’s, Magnus Furustam, Head of Product Area Core Networks.
"Network virtualization means that network functions will be migrated to run on a virtualized environment rather than on dedicated hardware," Furustam explains. "This approach has many advantages, such as making it possible to share the same hardware infrastructure among several functions and applications."
Hosted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), NFV is an initiative that was started by a group of operators end of 2012 to explore the possibilities of virtualization of network functions. Ericsson has actively taken part in the NFV work since its onset, and is represented in all NFV work groups.
Many are looking at network virtualization as a way to align applications to run on high-volume servers, storage and network equipment instead of dedicated hardware – bringing several benefits, Furustam explains.
"Opex is expected to be cut because it’s less costly to maintain a few variants of hardware than a huge variety of specialized infrastructure. There are also operational benefits handling a software application decoupled from the life cycle of the infrastructure."
Furustam believes NFV will spur innovation and make it easier for new players to contribute with applications. It will also facilitate the use of the networks for more flexible deployments, such as trial systems to try out new types of end-user services, or create sub-networks tailored for specific enterprise customers.
Early this year, Ericsson launched its product – the Ericsson Cloud System – an open, distributed, telecom-grade platform based on the OpenStack architecture. "The cloud technology will enable NFV, making it possible to place network functions where they are best suited from a topology point of view," Furustam explains. "Ericsson Cloud System will bring an open environment where new applications can run side by side with network functions.”
Furustam says that the Ericsson Cloud System has qualities that traditional IT type of solutions don’t have. These include living up to strict telco-grade requirements on service availability, service continuity and network security.
NFV also has its challenges, Furustam adds. One has to do with operational principles. In a node-based organization there is usually one organization responsible for all aspects of a specific node. In a virtualized environment however, the situation is more complex, and the operators need to decide on operational principles.
"With the Ericsson Cloud System we’ve addressed these issues. It enables an easy migration to virtualization and makes it possible for operators to evolve their existing networks."