NFV and SDN deployments require automated service assurance that won’t compromise reliability

Service assurance is a crucial and increasingly complex task for communications service providers. Without granular insight into network performance metrics, a CSP cannot gauge customer experience, network reliability, find and fix failures or ensure costly investments in network infrastructure and spectrum are providing the necessary return. As CSPs adopt network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) tools to keep up with demand for capacity and quality, service assurance has to evolve to keep pace with the emerging cloud-native approach to network architecture.

NFV and SDN are making networks smarter and more efficient–turning over formerly manual tasks to intelligent software running on off-the-shelf servers and making network operations more flexible and agile. As physical networks give way to hybrid and, ultimately, fully virtualized networks, EXFO envisions a three-phase approach to NFV/SDN adoption: virtualizing network functions, automating operations and moving to a devops model.

Here, we’re going to examine phase two of that process but for a refresher on phase one, click here to learn from EXFO Solution Architect Ihab Mahna about how to maintain focus on service assurance while making the critical move to virtualization.

“We take all the technology that’s being virtualized,” Mahna said, “and we build open interfaces to better enable automation. We don’t do the automation ourselves, but we enable automation by providing the right APIs, the right open interface and the right components needed.”

With the move to automation of operations, creating an open environment for closed loop automation, service assurance makes automation easier thereby accelerating ROI and reducing operational expense. Mahna explained how EXFO uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to access virtual network functions (VNFs), conduct active testing and perform passive monitoring. When new services are turned up, APIs can provide performance KPIs throughout the orchestration process.

Highlighting the advantages of a virtual rather than physical network, Mahna said: “The open interfaces directly manage the virtual function and, because the functions are now software, you have a dynamic way to manage them. Segmentation in a physical network was not possible because you have to put verifiers to actively test individual physical routers. In a virtual network, you can actually spin up a verifier dynamically on demand between each virtual network function, each part of the service chain, and test the connection between them. This improves your ability to do better job at troubleshooting and allows you to perform root cause analysis much faster. This was not possible in the physical network.”

“Service assurance is no longer a one-size-fits-all,” Mahna said. “It has to be customized to each one of these services and the innovation of how to do that is key. Our service assurance solutions allow communications service providers to discover, in real time, the inventory for both physical and virtual networks providing the customer a seamless, 360-degree picture of all the components of an end-to-end service.”

The final stage in a transition to an NFV/SDN model is incorporating service assurance into a combined development and operations (DevOps) environment, which we will explore in a future article. Click here to learn more about EXFO.

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