Virtualization for Cable Operators – The How, Where, and When

Key takeaways on virtualization for cable operators – As discussed in Virtualizing the Cable Architecture, Light Reading’s Forum at SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo 2017.

SDN and NFV – The Time to Act is Now

Last week, Light Reading hosted the breakfast forum Virtualizing the Cable Architecture at SCTE Cable-Tec Expo 2017. In it, I joined leading players in the cable industry including  Alan Breznick, Heavy Reading’s Senior Analyst, John Dickinson, Vice President Advanced Commercial Engineering, Charter Communications, and Jeff Finkelstein, Executive Director of Advanced Technology, Cox Communications, to discuss where North American cable operators stand with SDN/NFV trials and pilots and the next steps that they must take to make virtualization a reality.

Like Light Reading very well mentioned, software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are gaining traction. As cable operators seek innovative ways to meet growing bandwidth demands, boost service delivery and performance, slash operating costs and bring new products, services, and features to market faster than ever before, virtualization has stepped off the wishlist into the ‘must-have’ list for many. 

Why SDN & NFV Make Sense for Cable
As presented at Light Reading’s Virtualizing the Cable Architecture Breakfast Forum


In a room packed with receptive attendees, we panelists shared our insights on how, where, and when to implement these virtualized solutions in operators’ networks.

As Light Reading recently reported, one of the main takeaways we all agreed on was the need to adopt a cable virtualization framework that “allows everyone to speak the same language and move in the same architectural direction.” Here are the rest of my key takeaways on virtualization for cable operators:

How is virtualization changing MSOs?

  • Cleaning house – First off, virtualization is forcing MSOs to take a deep, hard look at their legacy OSS/BSS infrastructure, where they’ve been piling on systems and technologies for decades. This is a good thing. By getting a feel for the whole scope of the OSS/BSS infrastructure, cable operators will be in much better shape to make sound decisions to optimize their networks.
  • An abstraction approach – In the MSO vs. web-scale players (Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc.) competitive scenario, operators should look to standard-based frameworks such as eTOM, ITIL, etc., to be able to abstract functionalities to which an orchestrator can integrate to.
  • Adopting standards-based frameworks – And while we’re on the subject of frameworks, SDO’s are playing a huge role in the industry right now by providing valuable guidelines and standards to follow. These standards become the baseline for vendors so MSOs can focus on shopping for functionalities provided by the different solutions in the market. Needless to say, industry vendors that adhere to standards such as TM Forum Frameworx, MEF LSO, and others, will be a smart partnership for operators looking to add long-term value to their networks.
  • Changing the KPI paradigm – As Intraway’s North America Business Development leader, Sandra Bobadilla, stated: “In order to set KPIs and determine ROI when virtualizing, operators need to change the paradigm of making improvements to the cost, time or quality variables, and look into bringing the variables to zero: zero time, zero cost and zero defects. This change in paradigm will bring a different mindset when deciding on a new process or solution, and radically transform the business.”
  • Orchestration is key – An orchestration platform will allow MSOs to handle the complexity they’re faced with and to automate transactions while reducing OPEX and time-to-market. Orchestration will also bridge together their legacy and virtualized infrastructures.

Insider Recommendation: Don’t be afraid to go with a smaller player for your orchestration platform. These players bring the agility, SME, lower cost and speedier implementation that the big guys can’t deliver. Check out Intraway’s Symphonica Service Orchestrator to learn more. 

Where will virtualization have the most impact for cable operators?

Implementing an orchestration platform will be disruptive to most functions (i.e. Eng, Ops, Prod, Care, App/Dev, etc.), including the potential opportunity to radically change the customer experience. It will expose the MSO’s Infrastructure to the customer, offering total transparency. MSOs must prepare for this. 

CableLabs has identified three new components of next-gen cable networks:

  • Service orchestrator
  • NFV orchestrator
  • Master SDN controller

They are also developing interfaces between service orchestrator and SDN controller, as well as between SDN controller and both VNFs and physical network devices. Early focus has been on virtualizing business services and network functions first, with residential services close behind.

SDN: Separating the Data & Control Layers
As presented at Light Reading’s Virtualizing the Cable Architecture Breakfast Forum


NFV: Moving From Physical to Virtualized Devices
As presented at Light Reading’s Virtualizing the Cable Architecture Breakfast Forum

When should MSOs start thinking about virtualization?

The time is now. Yesterday, actually – you’re already a tad late.

A few MSOs are already exploring both SDN and NFV technologies in lab and field trials. WOW recently announced the first-known commercial deployment of a distributed, software-based access network architecture in select markets. Most are exploring service management orchestration as a way to manage and automate their legacy and future state infrastructures.

How soon should other MSOs jump on the virtualization bandwagon and how should they approach it?

The time to get onboard with the concept of ‘orchestration as a need’ and to start shopping around for a service management orchestration platform is now. Looking at it from a 1,000-foot view, the process to add orchestration is: Learn, Shop, POC, Buy, Trial, Implement.

Has your organization accepted ‘orchestration as a need’? Before you embark on an orchestration project, check out our webinar recording with our recommendations on how to prepare for adding orchestration to multi-vendor networks.

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