By Kurt Michel, Sr. Marketing Director, IneoQuest Technologies
If you were to envision the “perfect” network, how would you describe it? What would be the characteristics that define perfection? The answer, of course, is highly dependent on who you are: the service consumer, the network-based service provider or the network operator. Let’s briefly consider each of these.
Consumers want immediate responsiveness, regardless of service: web pages that load fast, transactions that progress quickly and securely, and videos that start immediately and play without buffering, in sufficient, non-blocky resolution. They want these things 24/7/365 – no excuses, whether it is Cyber Monday, or a live World Cup match, at home or riding in a train…it does not matter.
Service providers want their customers to stay engaged for as long as possible, and to return often. Basically, they want to provide the experience the consumer wants, but at a cost that supports their business model.
These requirements all land in the domain of the network operator, who has the monumental task of trying to meet these needs while keeping costs in control. He must meet regulatory requirements, quickly identify and fix problems when they occur, and accurately project growth to make the necessary investments in order to maintain a “goldilocks” network that matches capacity with demand – neither too much or too little, but just right. Unfortunately, a “right sized” network for streaming the world cup finals is likely massive overkill for the other 99.9 percent of the year. And mobile/fixed capacity demands are constantly shifting based on time of day and workday/weekend. Based on commonly deployed networking technologies, the operator faces an impossible task.
The mobile network operator arguably feels the greatest pain, as mobile data traffic is projected to grow 10 times, at a compound annual growth rate of 57 percent from 2014 to 2019, led by video traffic growing at 13 times during that period.
With common appliance-based networking technology, the goals of each of these groups are often in conflict with one another, pitting the consumer, service provider, and network operator in a zero-sum, win-lose relationship. In response, operators and providers have developed commitment-based contracts around peak use, or minimum usage commitments, in order to distribute their risk. But it does not have to be this way.
In order to meet the consumer’s needs efficiently, the service provider and network operator require three key items: infrastructure flexibility and scalability, as well as the real-time knowledge to manage it. For example, in the evening and on weekends, more people are at home, watching streaming video entertainment on larger screens which require higher quality video. During the workweek, consumers tend to be more mobile, watching their video on smaller screens outside of the home. If a network’s overall capacity could be dynamically re-allocated between fixed and mobile demand, or if additional caching/streaming servers could be “spun up” during these times using cloud-available resources, the needs of all parties could be more efficiently met. Everybody wins.
I refer to this theoretical network as the “What You Need – When You Need it” (WYN-WYN) network, and the emerging Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN) initiatives are paving the way to networks that offer a win-win platform for consumers, service providers, and network operators. In addition, forward-thinking network operators now demand software-based, “NFV-compatible” infrastructure solutions that have been historically dominated by appliances, or “boxes.”
Any NFV solution is, in essence, software that can run on standard server hardware deployed “in the cloud.” But the migration from “traditional” network appliance-based solutions that include custom hardware elements to an all-software solution is not done lightly. It takes time, vision, commitment, and investment.
A few years ago, IneoQuest embarked on a strategy to support the NFV initiative, because we recognized the “win-win” benefits NFV would provide for networked video distribution. This strategy required IneoQuest to migrate its video assurance and analytics solutions entirely to software, from appliance-oriented products which included custom, internally-designed hardware elements. In addition, the NFV focus required collaboration with NFV thought leaders, made possible through the Intel® Network Builders program.
Why would a company like IneoQuest, with roots in appliance-based video analytics and test/measurement, make the significant commitments required for NFV? At IneoQuest, we recognized some key elements that would be required for NFV to meet its lofty goals:
As a result, we saw a real need and opportunity for video analytics and assurance products in the NFV space, and are pleased to have successfully completed the transition for many of our products, just in time to participate in the first NFV interoperability tests sponsored by NIA, Light Reading and EANTC. We are also finding that the shift to software-based, NFV-compatible solutions is giving us some unexpected benefits in product flexibility. We can now integrate different, complementary “virtualized” products in “right-sized” bundles to provide integrated, cost-effective solutions to customers who would previously have been a poor fit for our products. And we can provide our software to technology partners for integrating quality assurance into their solutions. These are yet additional, albeit unanticipated, example of the NFV win-win. And I expect they will not be the last.