Lab-as-a-Service: Your assistant for network virtualisation

Network functions virtualisation (NFV); a concept which would have sounded unachievably futuristic a decade ago, is now very real and very exciting, yet there is slight apprehension for some. It is much like the intriguing, but tentative reception to autonomous vehicles; you know the technology is there, and you sense that it is safe, but making the jump from driving a car to being driven by a car, is a daunting prospect. Similarly, many operators are wary of the transition from physical infrastructure to the ETSI NFV software-defined network.

NFV should be considered an evolution, not a revolution, and as such a careful, methodical plan is needed. The physical network infrastructure needs to be maintained throughout the NFV journey, and integrated with rather than replaced by, the virtual. With experience in both camps, Cobham Wireless is well positioned to serve as an expert partner to help de-risk NFV, and guide the move to a reliable software-based network.

It may be a scary prospect for operators, but the benefits of virtualisation are significant and the move is generally seen as essential. Traditionally in the telecoms industry, it would’ve taken 18 months or so from the conception of a service to its final deployment. Fuelled by accelerating bandwidth demand, competition and consumer sophistication, the time-to-market for services and applications is more important than it ever. Quality and service availability remain vital but the network design is fluid. (You’d be happy with a single design these days!)

So what is Lab-as-a-Service? It’s an exciting new approach to networking. Born out of the data-centre, it is a systematic approach that automatically tests, validates and verifies planning capacity for your network design. More than this, the same tools are used in post deployment for service assurance and real-time visibility. By creating and validating networks within the ETSI NFV framework, you will guarantee a future-proof multi-vendor right-sized network.

The three pillars for Lab-as-a-Service include Network Orchestration, automation and an integrated verification solution. However, you also need to consider the following:

  • A framework that models and supports existing networks
  • Support of Multiple Infrastructure Platforms (VIMs), such as OpenStack, OpenVIM and vCloud Director and Containers
  • Automation framework and services to validate on-boarding NFVs, Compute and Storage
  • Pre-and-post deployment validation solutions
  • Repository of VNFs, with Day 0 and Day 1 configuration
  • Multi-layer KPIs from the infrastructure, network elements and validation tools
  • Load generation, capacity planning and failover validation scenarios
  • Security assessment

This set of features is only possible by forging partnerships and aligning any technical solution with business objectives, and this is where Cobham Wireless’ LaaS can help. With its automation framework, Virtual Infrastructure Manager and TeraVM validation test traffic solution, a multi-vendor software-based network can be deployed and tested within minutes on x86 servers. As a result, the following key what-if scenarios are automated:

  • What if my subscriber traffic grows 10% YoY, how does VNF expand to meet that capacity?
  • How many x86 servers are required for EPC slicing with my NB-IoT deployment?
  • How much compute power do I need to secure my RAN backhaul?
  • What happens when I upgrade Network Elements?
  • Can I swap vendors without feature or performance degradation?
  • How do I compare and migrate to the latest Openstack versions?

All of these questions and more can be answered thanks to a full automation environment based on ETSI NFV RESTful APIs. Several virtual sandboxes can run in parallel and the production network can be monitored in real time, while smaller parallel test networks can be in place for engineering, support and operations.

And it goes further; at the same cost as running a traditional lab, LaaS assets can be pooled in a centralised datecentre, shared and re-allocated across departments and global locations, which is made possible by subscription-based usage. In the past, when a team in one location shut up shop and went home, equipment lay dormant and unused until the next day. Now, the tools and know-how can be reallocated or used simultaneously from other locations, significantly reducing costs of multi-site operations.

Automation is the key, and Cobham Wireless provides an open-source automation framework allowing customers to develop automation in-house, outsource automation or a combination of the two. TeraVM allows operators and NEMs to dynamically stress test their network functions, applications, and measure security performance. The network is never isolated so we offer a multiVIM solution which helps bridge the gap between IT, Telco and Datacentre applications.

The move from physical to virtual should be a gradual one, and every operator adopting NFV will have different requirements, timescales, budgets and resources. The NFV journey is full of twists and turns, so agility is essential. As such, we can offer a flexible set of services and a mix-and-match approach. These can be adopted as a complete turn-key LaaS, or – thanks to the open framework – can be integrated as components of an existing solution.

Implementing LaaS and the journey to NFV requires expertise in legacy and emerging technologies. We’ve got years of experience in both the virtual and the physical, and have developed strong partnerships and reliable services, which places us in the ideal position to help facilitate this journey. The excitement around NFV is palpable, however, it’s worth remembering that the transition from physical architecture to a virtualised model should be a gradual process. The LaaS model means infrastructure and networks can be tested and managed more easily, and upgrades and comparisons can be facilitated at a lower price point in comparison with a traditional facility. Cobham Wireless can provide not only the full toolbox to help deliver the LaaS model, but also the safe pair of hands required to make this a success.

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Ultan Kelly Ultan Kelly Senior Product Line Director, TeraVM, Cobham Wireless

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