Last week, I was part of a team doing something special. My colleagues at ADVA Optical Networking and I joined up with British Telecom to demonstrate the potential of network functions virtualization (NFV). It felt like we gave delegates at the SDN and OpenFlow World Congress in Düsseldorf a genuine glimpse into the future as we showcased how NFV is certain to transform the way nearly every enterprise operates.
The idea was to demonstrate that network functions virtualization is the ideal technology for the Internet of Things (IoT). When software appliances are untied from dedicated hardware and run on common, standard servers, an enormous range of possibilities opens up. NFV creates an open platform for new IoT applications as well as freeing up the huge amounts of additional processing power that they need. It also enables data to be processed at the network edge for optimum efficiency and easy scalability.
So far, NFV has only been utilized for communication network appliances and the benefits of using virtualized routers, firewalls and intrusion detection systems are now well known. We set out to show that the natural next step is to harness it for specific enterprise IT applications. The aim was to highlight the potential of NFV to enable communication service providers (CSPs) to create an entirely new range of managed service offerings.
Our demonstration involved taking a traditional CCTV network that connects cameras to a central site and transforming it into something far more valuable. We added video processing which enables CCTV to be used not just for area surveillance but also to inform operations about security issues and to provide information for long-term infrastructure improvements. We showed how it’s possible to use an open NFV platform to quickly and efficiently create a CCTV solution featuring a comprehensive set of enhanced functions. And all of this new functionality was simply layered on top of existing network infrastructure using standard, open-source orchestration tools (OpenStack).
Local processing at the enterprise site makes a big difference. It reduces the amount of backhaul traffic and enables real-time data to be collected on-site for mission-critical applications. Spare server capacity can be leveraged to provide long-term analytics. In the use case that we demonstrated, this spare capacity occurs naturally overnight. Hosting analysis software on a server integrated with a demarcation device is a brilliantly efficient use of resources. It minimizes the amount of hardware at an enterprise site and ensures processing resources are employed more effectively.
Equipment for the demo was supplied by Alchera Technologies. It created an additional layer on top of ADVA Optical Networking’s core NFV solution, the FSP 150 ProVM. This enabled new functionality which would traditionally sit with a third party. In this case it was people-tracking technology on top of the ADVA Optical Networking platform and we used it to build a live impression of how attendees were moving around the conference floor.
The reactions we got throughout the week convinced me that the demonstration was working. People could see the great potential of NFV to transform enterprise services, especially when I was also able to speak with them and discuss how converging network and enterprise appliances onto a common infrastructure provides advantages for the installation, operation and maintenance of ICT networks. What’s more, service innovation doesn’t rely on installing new hardware so testing new ideas becomes an incredibly fast process.
Many delegates were even more impressed when we explained that this same technology is already being used in a variety of locations across the UK today, in a range of exciting smart city and transport-focused projects.
Several attendees were interested from a CSP perspective in the potential of NFV to enable new services. It really is going to be a game-changer in terms of what can be offered. Suddenly, they can provide an ICT infrastructure which addresses not only the connectivity needs but also server and storage requirements of customers. Thus, NFV enables a CSP to extend business from simple connectivity towards managed services, addressing their customers’ complete ICT requirements.
There seemed to be a buzz of excitement across all five days and I enjoyed every minute. We opened so many people’s eyes to what NFV can do when it moves out of communication networks into the enterprise and into the IoT. I think we put the message across loud and clear but I’m also sure that this was just the beginning. We showed just the tip of the iceberg and I’m already looking forward to coming back to demonstrate how NFV can go even further in the future.