Markets have been busy recently with announcements of solutions to help service providers benefit from powerful innovations in SDN, NFV and cloud computing systems. Solutions are emerging for fixed and mobile network environments, and for business and consumer applications. Pockets of solutions are emerging to address one part or another of an operator’s end-to-end environment, for example, increasing elasticity in mobile packet cores, simplifying business customer premise (CPE) configurations, and instantiating VNFs dynamically into cloud-based IT services.
While progress in pockets is good, designers also have to keep in mind that customer experiences exist on an end-to-end basis, at each point of consumption and across the aggregated performance of each domain involved in the service. Indeed, by embracing the cloud-based paradigm we are pursuing a goal in which services–and the policies that control them–are dynamically managed across the collection of resources that support them.
At its highest level, this is a job for service-level orchestration, for platforms that ‘think’ about a service end-to-end. Domain-specific solutions that optimize for local requirements can be integrated into a total service using northbound plug-ins and APIs. In essence a new design challenge for SPs has emerged: to optimize the mosaic of new virtual elements while still achieving a high-quality operation. How efficient (or complicated) this is depends to a degree on how efficiently the ‘gold vein’ of consistent service policies can be deployed into an end-to-end path at scale. How well an SP can do this will affect both quality of experience for the customer as well as total cost of ownership and return on investment for the SP.
One approach to mastering this challenge is to build using solutions that employ a consistent framework for managing policies across multiple domains, such as end-user CPE, wide area networks, and cloud computing data centers. The overall goal could be approached by focusing on key building blocks of the end-to-end service environment and managing its policies consistently, thereby getting a start on the overall goal. For example, managing networking resources consistently would be one way of achieving continuity at scale, at least for the network underpinning user applications. This approach requires a policy management system that aligns the network ‘northbound’ consistently with the operator’s requirements and propagates policies for enforcing those requirements in a scalable manner to each virtual element that is deployed in multiple domains.
This is an ambitious, some might say, lofty goal. Yet realizing the goal of delivering services for many individual customers on demand and at scale and with consistently orchestrated quality requires just such a far-reaching implementation.
Thus, while it is possible to start transitioning infrastructures to virtualized designs one domain at a time, it is also possible to build on an architecture that consistently spans multiple domains on an end-to-end basis. In this way, an operators may simultaneously increase efficiency and increase the quality of customers’ experiences. In doing so, they would measurably accelerate their progress to delivering cloud-based services on demand across an entirely virtualized service delivery infrastructure with consistent end-to-end policy control.