Embracing a service-based approach to networks


Optical fibre network illustration

There is a significant shift taking place in how customers provision, consume and manage networks. Going forward there will be widespread adoption of ‘network-as-a-service’, which is composed of network functions (physical and virtual; across multiple-domains; overlays and underlays), with flows defined between them and a ‘service policy’ associated with them.

This service policy will introduce  a policy-driven approach where technical metrics and/or business metrics govern the lifecycle of the network service. For example, if the throughput exceeds trigger scale out (technical metric); on this day of the week reduce bandwidth (business metric).

This next big wave of technical advancement is driven by Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN). In terms of capabilities NFV refers to the virtualisation of network functions such as firewalls and routers that are hosted on general-purpose compute hardware and consumed in a cloud model. While SDN refers to the programmatic management of network functions – physical or virtual.

The benefits of these technologies are manifold and include:

Reduced capex: moving from proprietary hardware to a more generalised compute infrastructure, where resources can be shared and allocated on a cloud-based model maximising the return on investment (ROI)

Reduced opex: leveraging automation across the service lifecycle from provisioning to assurance and continuous evolution, resulting in a reduction of overall operational cost

Service agility: facilitating an on-demand capability to subscribe and consume network services in a dynamic and flexible way

Customer empowerment: enhancing customer experience and facilitating a self-service capability of consuming and managing network services

But just as this service-based approach heralds a new way of consuming network connectivity, it will also have a knock on effect within a business’s organisational model across both people and processes. The level of agility gained by consuming network as a service allows businesses to react to market conditions faster but they will likely need to undergo some transition internally in order to fully optimise this capability. However, this transition will likely form a part of the digital transformation strategy as it moves from a project or initiative status to strategic business imperative.

But for network operators too this is a new way of delivering network solutions and this will impact the organisational model just as much, including an impact on IT systems as there will be a need for automation across domains – transport, packet and new domains such as NFV. In my opinion, it’s a big change that will have wide ranging impact but as a trade-off will allow organisations to offer more bespoke on-demand services to their customers which are attuned to their business and technical requirements.

Chetan Narang is Platform Architect, Network on Demand, at Colt

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