The Revolution in Telecommunication Networks:  Virtualization

Rapid changes in technology and consumer demand has created telecommunications networks that are populated with a large and an increasing variety of proprietary applications-specific network hardware.  When telecommunication carriers launch new network services, they often must acquire the space and power to accommodate more appliances. Further, new services must account for the increasing costs of energy, capital investment and the highly specialized skill sets necessary to design, integrate and operate highly complex hardware-based appliances.  As innovations in technology and service delivery accelerate, hardware life-cycles are increasingly shorter which further inhibits the roll-out of new, revenue generating applications. As a result, there is considerable incentive for telecommunication carriers to move away from the silos of proprietary, hardware-based and vertically oriented applications services platforms.   Today we are seeing a highly disruptive move towards a paradigm of virtualized network functions residing on virtual machines; i.e., Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

Network virtualization is the process of combining hardware and software network resources and network functionality into a single, software-based administrative entity.    Virtualization essentially decouples an infrastructure-based service from the physical assets on which that service operates.  As such, a service is not strictly associated with any physical asset. Instead, the service is described in a data structure and exists entirely in a software abstraction layer reproducing the service on any physical resource running the virtualized software. The lifecycle, identity, location, and configuration attributes of the service exists in software with API interfaces, thereby unlocking the full potential of automated provisioning.

Virtualizing Network Functions offers many benefits, including:

  • Reduced equipment costs through the consolidation of multi-version, multi-tenancy hardware through use of a common platform for different applications, users, and tenants.
  • More efficient allocation of resources across services and across different customer bases.
  • Reduced dependence upon separate, proprietary hardware.
  • Reduced Time-to-Market for new network applications, services, and improvements which make the CSP more responsive to market demands, thus competitively stronger.
  • The ability to target new services based on geography or customer sets.
  • Rapid scaling of services (up or down) as required. 
  • Increased innovation by porting novel network applications and services, developed as software, onto common hardware and operating systems environments already deployed by the CSPs.
  • Facilitation of applications development -- not only by network services systems vendors, but from a wider base of developers that are drawn to the network applications development community which allows the Communications Services Provider a wider selection of network applications, to differentiate the network from competitors.
  • Improved operational efficiencies from common architectural and operating practices, as advocated by emerging NFV industry standards bodies.
  • Optimized network security with centralized managed from a single physical site.
  • Reduced power consumption by migrating applications from purpose-built platforms to more power-efficient general purpose servers.

Figure 1 provides an overall summary of the merits of NFV. Of note is the riding of a diversity of Virtual Network Functions, implemented in software, over virtualized compute, storage, and networking facilities.  These virtualized facilities, in turn, operate upon physical "bare metal" compute, storage, and networking assets owned by one or more infrastructure service providers.  These assets can even be shared.  For example, if one service provider finds that its physical computing facilities are stressed due to excessive loading, another service provider's underutilized compute facilities could be made available to the first provider.  Asset utilization is improved with this arrangement, reducing costs by eliminating unnecessary capital investment and the resulting operational costs of maintaining underutilized hardware.

Figure 1.  The merits of Network Functions Virtualization (from ETSI).

As indicated in Figure 1, a wide range of network functions can be shifted to a virtualized environment.  Aqsacom considers Lawful Interception (LI) as one of many network functions, now in a new setting.

Aqsacom is active in a number of initiatives to bring Lawful Interception, Data Retention, and other secure carrier-based operations to virtualized network environments.  For example, Aqsacom has formal representation on the ETSI NFV SEC working group, which aims to address the myriads of issues on secure networking for NFV networks.

Go to these links to learn more about Aqsacom's virtualized ALIS (for Lawful Interception) and ADRIS (for Data Retention) platforms:

vALIS (virtualized ALIS Lawful Interception system)

vADRIS (virtualized ADRIS Data Retention system)

Further reading about NFV:

For an overview of standardization efforts and industry practices behind NFV:
In 2012, several of the world’s leading telecommunications network operators selected ETSI to be the home of the Industry Standards Group (ISG) for NFV. The membership now consists of over 290 companies that continue to develop NFV standards while sharing NFV implementation and testing experiences. The 2015 NFV Activity Report and the full list of NFV members and Participants are available on the ETSI NFV Portal.

Aqsacom's White Paper on NFV:

RCR Wireless News has been providing wireless and mobile industry news, insights, and analysis to mobile and wireless industry professionals, decision makers, policy makers, analyst, and investors since 1982. The site provides a variety of, among a host of topics, NFV webinars, podcasts, and publications.

Another overview of NFV:

Virtuapedia consists of two main components: a comprehensive set of unique, comprehensive, and searchable databases covering the entire virtualization ecosystem; and a series of indexes that track CSP progress in deploying virtualization developed with direct input from the world's leading CSPs.

Light Reading is a multi-dimensional online information resource that focuses on networking in the telecommunications industry. NFV topics covered by LightReading include information and articles related to NFV: Elements, Strategies, Specs/Open Source, MANO, Systems Integration, plus Tests and Trials.

The Telco Cloud Ezine Builder ( is a cloud library that allows readers to select personalized areas of interest.   The main content areas, with a variety of subcategories in each,  include:

  • Programmable Infrastructure:  NFV, SDN, Cloud
  • Automated Operations:  OSS, Actionable Customer Intelligence
  • New Services:  Service Enablement, Applications, and Cloud Enablement as well as  IoT