When Operators Ask “Will My Data Center Support NFV?”, Vendors Reply “Yes, But …”

David Snow
David Snow

Summary Bullets:

  • MWC 2015 has passed into history, but the Q&A between operators and vendors on how much existing data center infrastructure can be re-used for NFV continues.
  • Whether it’s using existing infrastructure better or procuring new NFV-optimized kit, vendors are stepping up to help.

As March draws to a close, and memories of Mobile World Congress 2015 start to fade, the Current Analysis’ Service Provider Infrastructure practice has been publishing its final advisory reports. The team has also been asking itself whether any aspects of the show have been overlooked and reviewing the news flow pre-, during and post the event together with digesting on-site vendor briefings around the SDN/NFV theme. One conclusion is that there seems to be an underlying “question and answer” session going on between operators and vendors about the readiness (or otherwise) of their existing data center infrastructure to support NFV. After all, NFV is supposed to liberate applications from having to run on specialized telecom hardware and set them free to run on “commodity” hardware, but is it the hardware telcos already have or is it something different?

There were a number of vendor announcements at the show that presupposed that question:

The above announcements do not mean that just the named vendors are addressing this issue of data center reuse for NFV, or that they are solely restricted to the above categories. In fact, whether you talk to any traditional telecoms vendor or one from the IT/enterprise side, the answer is uniformly “Yes, data center servers are up to the job, but …”

And it’s a big “BUT”.

The NFV vision is disarmingly simple, but there are many obstacles still to overcome in the infrastructure space, let alone the higher levels of the stack. Existing data center hardware, could, in theory, be immediately employed in the service of NFV but whether this would be either performance or cost-effective depends on a multiplicity of complex factors. These include such diverse matters such as the SLA requirements of the telecom application in question, the scale of the operator’s NFV ambitions and whether in fact you are talking to an operator’s cloud or network architects. Nevertheless, it’s certainly a sign of progress that MWC 2015 evidenced a genuine move to get down to the “nuts and bolts” of NFV infrastructure provision and that all stakeholders are highly focused on really getting NFV work.

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