Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Blueprint: How NFV is Shifting Service Provider Culture

by Jack Barrett, Senior Director of Strategic Account Marketing, Juniper Networks

Gone are the days where mobile providers and telecommunications companies can rightfully be called “phone companies.”

As early as the end of last year, U.S. service providers for the first time saw data revenue outpace voice fees. Nokia Networks has posited that mobile subscribers will consume a full gigabyte of data daily, up from approximately 500 megabytes today.

This points to a larger trend at play – the business model and infrastructure at the center of the modern service provider’s data deluge are shifting dramatically.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) promise to render networks more agile and suitable for evolving subscriber needs. But this shift to virtualized, software-driven networks isn’t just about upgrading technology. It will also require a stark transformation in the business processes, worker skills and culture within telco organizations.

First, some context

Over the last few months, we’ve met with several of our major service-provider customers who have asked us to discuss our point of view on their journey to NFV and SDN.  As a result, we found four main organizational elements that SDN and NFV are forcing service providers to address:

  1. Business processes
  2. New software skills
  3. Roles and responsibilities
  4. Company Culture
The two acronyms SDN and NFV signal a breaking of the silos under which telco servics are traditionally employed. Additionally, the simplification, automation and analytics that accompany NFV and SDN achieve operational benefits by reducing the costs associated with manual and complex processes.

This means groups within telcos – be it the networking guys or the IT folks – that previously never had to collaborate are coming together in new ways as the organizational walls fall.

The Automation in SDN/NFV Requires Faster Business Processes

Simplification and automation is imperative to rapidly delivering the services that consumers and businesses alike need. That could include on-demand firewalls for a startup or tune-streaming services to music lovers that don’t count against data plans.

With NFV, teams can now quickly build and scale these types of new services using virtual functions.

With the introduction of NFV and SDN technologies, software automates complex operational process, and delivers networks functions previously delivered by dedicated or proprietary hardware.  This requires a new process model for controlling software-based objects, not boxes, and as such, service providers must learn to work with logical devices as well as physical devices.   These techniques, which were pioneered in the data center, are no longer restricted to the Web services model and the data center, but now extend to the service provider and global network.

It is important for service providers to understand how SDN and NFV will impact their business. Mapping out where SDN and NFV will most greatly affect their business is the first step to embracing the changes that they will bring. A deep dive into the technology will allow service providers to establish the processes needed, and enable them to support automation and software control.

The New Network Requires New Software Skills

Perhaps one of the most dramatic shifts service providers will face in the transition to NFV or SDN is the need for new software development skills. Network engineering is still a core competency of service providers, who must manage and maintain facilities and service level agreements (SLA) to carry the traffic. However, with services being delivered on programmable platforms, organizations require software skills and DevOps-ready staff.

DevOps brings an agile services delivery model to network services. Spanning code generation, planning, version control, automated testing and code checking, automated release and other functions, DevOps enables service providers to go from delivering services in months and years to delivering services in days and minutes. We see new roles emerging within the service provider:
  • IT generalists with responsibilities throughout the virtualization stack
  • SDN engineering for flow architecture design and management
  • Cloud orchestration, which involves third parties delivering brokerage and clearing-house capabilities
  • Partner and channel development to provide content delivery, XaaS and other cloud services as customer solutions

The New Network Changes Roles and Responsibilities

The result of virtualizing the underlying network and separating it from service delivery is the creation of a development platform for service delivery. Because the network now accommodates the use of software-development methodologies, service providers need to embrace concepts like agility and DevOps as the way to speedy service delivery.

This, therefore, extends the influence of traditional IT and CIO functions to the other more operational realms of the network.

This is not about collapsing the CIO and CTO into a single role. The actual organizational structure is less important in this environment, because regardless of how you slice it the same jobs have be done. The important point is enabling the process for collaboration and establishing accountability. The key organizational transitions we see are:
  • The CTO becomes more future-focused. The CTO must focus on developments like standards and new technologies that will impact how to best build new services, applications and functions for the customers.
  • The CIO becomes more operations-focused. Within most service providers now, the CTO has the lion’s share of operations responsibility, while the CIO is more focused on the enterprise as a whole. The CIO must take on more operations responsibilities. Already widely embraced within the Web services community, this will result from the use of DevOps as the mainstay of the service creation environment.
  • The CMO becomes more technical and feature-focused. The CMO will increasingly  work more closely with the CIO to enable the technical changes required to meet customer demand
  • Sales teams become more solution-focused (and less network-focused). The enterprise sales organization will need to sell customer-specific SDN and NFV-enabled packages across wire-line and wireless access networks, with a focus on end-to-end management and accountability of the service and application. These services will be built to individual preferences regardless of technology.

The New Network Transforms Company Culture

Through all of this, service providers will need to shift to a software-centric business culture that mimics Web-services, content and media companies.

The change in pace that SDN and NFV, not to mention customer requirements, will cultivate means that service providers will need to get comfortable with launching services in beta, testing “on the fly,” and acknowledge “fast-fail” as success, perhaps more often than not.

Externally, the transitions brought about by NFV and SDN will require cultural changes in terms of service delivery and customer interactions. This biggest shift from a customer-facing perspective will be for service providers to switch from primarily being a connectivity providers to solutions-oriented providers focused on a holistic customer experience.

Bridging the NFV/SDN Chasm From Hype to Reality

The idea that a telecommunications company will move from a hardware-centric company to an agile, software-driven organization is imminent. We are bridging the chasm from NFV/SDN “hype” to reality, while recognizing the unique requirements that telecommunications companies have.

So, while lessons from the IT world related to embracing agile and extending these concepts to operations provide a good vision, we understand it will be important to do so in the context of the telecommunications environment.

With that said, it is more important now than ever before for traditional service providers to embrace change. This cannot be overstated. Quick response to these technologies will allow service providers to embrace the telco transformation and provide the improved services that their customers demand.

About the Author 

Jack Barrett is Senior Director of Strategic Account Marketing, Juniper Networks. He has more than 25 years of experience in Telecommunications and Networking.

About Juniper Networks 

Juniper Networks delivers innovation across routing, switching and security. From the network core down to consumer devices, Juniper Networks' innovations in software, silicon and systems transform the experience and economics of networking. Additional information can be found at Juniper Networks.



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