Industry Voices—Doyle: 8 key software-based networking trends for 2019

Software-based networking such as SDN and NFV has enabled significant changes in leading communication service provider (CSP) networks, including deployment of new applications, improved operations and management and lower equipment costs. 

As CSP networks become increasingly software-based, here's a look at the key trends for 2019, including MEC, vRAN, uCPE, SD-WAN and the impact of standards.

MEC struggles to find a business case

Multi-access edge computing is a network architecture that supports compute and storage capacity at the edge of the network. Mobile edge computing (MEC) provides substantial performance benefits for applications requiring low latency such as healthcare, virtual reality, video, industrial controls and self-driving cars.

While leading CSPs typically have the real estate to deploy MEC at the edge of the network, they continue to struggle with the business case for widespread deployment. For CSPs, cost, complicity and lack of standards for MEC are clear inhibitors to deployment.

During 2019, a few CSPs will pilot MEC deployments to test its technological and business viability.

SD-WAN managed services: Increased sophistication, more options

SD-WAN is a software-based network overlay technology that enables CSPs to rapidly deploy new hybrid WAN services, including internet plus MPLS, with significant improvements in management, application prioritization and internet security. CSPs are increasing the breadth and depth of the managed SD-WAN offerings in response to increased competition from internet and wireless data offerings from competitors such as managed service providers (MSPs), mobile carriers and cable providers. 

During 2019, CSPs will offer more sophisticated SD-WAN offerings largely based on the leading SD-WAN technology suppliers, such as Cisco, VMware, Versa Networks and Riverbed, among others. CSPs may deploy several offerings based on different underlying technology to meet the needs of small business as well as large business.

MANO frustration continues

CSPs are heavily reliant on their OSS/BSS systems for continuous operations of their network services. Their migration to software networking requires new management automation and network operations (MANO) architectures. 

The lack of mature MANO standards, limited blueprints and poor interoperability continues to challenge CSPs as they migrate from hardware-centric to software-based networks. CSPs and their partners must also integrate the new MANO systems with legacy back office systems—a time consuming and expensive practice.

Slow deployment of open RAN

5G, the emerging standard for the next generation of cellular wireless network, will see initial deployments during 2019 and 2020 in selected cities and countries. 5G employs a new RAN architecture with significant local compute to power intelligent traffic routing, video and application prioritization. Early 5G deployments—essentially pre-standard—will rely on vendor specific architectures from the leading network equipment providers such as Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia.

Over time, 5G standards should enable the disaggregation of the mobile network supplier change, including the deployment of open RAN solutions with third-party applications.

The standards conundrum

CSPs must sort through an alphabet soup of standards options as they look to architect their software-based networks. On the platform side, they typically deploy OpenStack in conjunction with SDN controllers, such as the one from Open Daylight, but will increasingly migrate to container-based Kubernetes solutions.

Another platform option is CORD—Central Office Reimaged as a Data Center. The goal of CORD is to combine open hardware from open-source groups such as Facebook's Open Compute Project (OCP) and software to bring data center economics and cloud agility to the telco central office.

ONAP is the leading open-source option for NFV MANO, while OPNFV is another broad NFV platform and management standards option.

CSPs considering vRAN and MEC architectures must navigate between competing standards including ETSI, OpenFog, TIP, Mobile Edge X and ORAN.

Widespread use of SDN

SDN has become a key ingredient for virtualized software-driven infrastructure in many leading CSPs. SDN is not the solution but has become an almost invisible component of a software-based architecture.

SDN is being used in a wide variety of applications including video, network monitoring/management, and security. SDN is being deployed along with OpenStack as a compute platform for NFV applications in the core and edge of the network. Over time, SDN will be an important part of 5G wireless deployments.

Single function to multifunction VNFs

Initial NFV deployments have typically replaced function specific hardware appliances with software virtual network functions (VNFs) running on standard x86 services. While beneficial, these deployments fall well short of the NFV vision of a wide variety of VNFs running on standardized compute resources.

The challenge for the industry is to improve interoperability between VNFs as each VNF supplier provides its own unique management interfaces, which are not easily re-architected to seamlessly interoperate with other VNFs. During 2019, CSPs will start to deploy more complex NFV systems with selected VNFs that feature improved interoperability.

uCPE business challenges continue

This year, several leading CSPs have plans for deployment of universal CPE (uCPE) as a more flexible way of delivering virtualized managed services to business customers. uCPE functionality includes SD-WAN, routing, WAN optimization, NAT, VPN and firewall features—all running on low-cost Intel or ARM platforms. 

The challenges for CSPs include sorting through multiple supplier or open-source options for each feature, integrating the various features into a common centralized, management platform and deploying a cost-effective platform with the horsepower to run this functionality with good performance.

In addition to these challenges, CSPs must deliver uCPE functionality that is competitive with options available from the broad, and highly competitive, SD-WAN and SD-Branch supplier community.

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has more than 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group VP for network, telecom and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected]; follow him @leedoyle_dc.

Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by FierceTelecom staff. They do not represent the opinions of FierceTelecom.