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A Productive Path to NFV

Provider networks continue to experience growth in traffic, which raises costs, without corresponding growth in revenues. Accommodating this growth and increasing complexity while managing costs is forcing CSPs to assess how they build and maintain their networks. Everyone agrees everything ultimately resolves to software and fortunately there's been considerable innovation that will support provider business imperatives.

Today's software deployment lifecycle can readily be adapted to virtualization and private clouds, and subsequently evolved to take advantage of network functions virtualization (NFV) as described briefly below. Providers can proceed at a pace they're comfortable with and derive additional benefits all along the path.

NFV Graph
Figure 1: Network services deployment evolution

Virtualization and private cloud technologies like KVM and OpenStack have been widely deployed and proven over many years across a range of industries. An array of configuration tools such as Ansible, Chef and Puppet, and processes refined by web-scale content providers and many others, have demonstrated value improving operational agility. Most providers have embraced virtualization and configuration automation, and many are now actively executing on private cloud strategies since they can obtain benefits today, including:

  • Almost infinite scalability
  • Resource sharing to maximize infrastructure utilization and operational efficiency
  • Open interfaces for service management and automation

Some CSPs are now aggressively pursuing NFV. Founded by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), NFV was conceived to eliminate proprietary hardware (appliances) from networks. A major focus of the effort is enabling sophisticated orchestration of virtualized network functions (VNF) to reduce costs and simplify deployment and ongoing network management even more.

All of these advancements put providers on a path to fundamentally change the economics of building and running networks. Removing costly appliances reduces capital and operating expenses and minimizes vendor dependencies. Instead CSPs can take advantage of highly competitive, multi-source, commodity server hardware markets and open operating systems with compelling price, performance, and feature advantages.

The long-term benefits are attractive. According to Gartner Research, "Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) promise significant operating expenditure (opex) reductions [for CSPs] of between 30% and 50% over 10 years. Simultaneously, the maintenance of legacy networks and telco software infrastructure will result in opex increases by up to 30% through 2020."

Further, Gartner states: "Revenue potential will only slowly evolve over five years until CSPs will be able to fully scale and operationalize SDN/NFV beyond technology in terms of processes, culture and skill sets. This will require investments in adequate tools, methodologies, processes and operational best practices to bring SDN/NFV to life incrementally."1

Nominum, now part of Akamai, concurs with Gartner. Many of our customers have moved, or are actively planning to move network services to private clouds. They're discovering today's cloud management and provisioning tools offer immediate benefits automating and simplifying configuration, while allowing them to retain (or even enhance) their existing security/compliance policies and operational controls. Our experience also shows, and Gartner validates, most providers are anticipating a multi-year transition as they investigate the capabilities of NFV platforms that will enable more sophisticated orchestration of their cloud-based services.

DNS in Provider Clouds
The Domain Name System (DNS) has always been a foundational part of the internet; it's integral to delivering the best possible subscriber experience and ensuring smooth network operations. DNS resolvers are "low hanging fruit" for deployment in private clouds. They're a necessary and visible network service so they add a strategic element to the cloud migration and their function in the network is highly compartmentalized and distributed. But reliability, high performance, low latency, security, and scalability will be more important than ever as DNS resolution moves into clouds, and further out to the edges of the network.

Nominum has never relied on proprietary hardware to improve any aspect of our DNS resolution software. We have always developed software optimized for commodity server hardware and open operating systems. We've also invested heavily in a platform, built with the latest web-scale technologies, that makes it simple for providers of any size to manage their DNS infrastructure and the vast amounts of data it can generate, and deliver new DNS-based services. We're delivering on the real power of virtualization, cloud, and NFV with solutions that are:

  • Easily scalable with performance headroom to simplify initial and ongoing provisioning, and reduce costs further by avoiding the need for specialized functions like load balancers
  • Self-protecting to eliminate additional security equipment (firewalls, application delivery controllers, etc) and all of the extra expense and operational overhead it introduces
  • Exceptionally responsive to maximize the subscriber experience by reducing latency
  • Highly resilient to deal with large spikes in demand without failing or requiring additional capacity to be deployed on an ad-hoc basis
  • Data-friendly with embedded facilities to capture and transmit vital data for managing critical DNS resources at scale
  • Big data-ready with servers designed to efficiently capture massive amounts of query data, and an integrated platform for aggregating and filtering data and connecting to big data systems
  • Service enabling integrated Nominum applications that align with business priorities to improve subscriber retention and drive incremental revenues

Nominum has numerous customer deployments on a range of virtual infrastructure. Our customers realize the benefits of virtualization, cloud and NFV regardless of which virtualized infrastructure they use, or orchestration and management platforms they select, because we offer alternatives that:

  • Support existing host/VM security and compliance requirements using customer supplied/mandated OS gold images or official Linux distro supplied OS images
  • Automate configuration with industry standard tools using Nominum engineered Ansible playbooks and a common configuration database
  • Leverage rich provisioning APIs and dynamic configuration changes without downtime
  • Gather and transmit powerful telemetry data, thresholds and events for virtual operations and orchestration through APIs
  • Comply with open NFV standards and certify against leading NFV management offerings
  • Incorporate customer requirements for advanced VNF functions such as Open Source MANO

Legacy solutions that have simply been retrofitted or recoded to run on open hardware are inadequate for realizing the promise of the cloud and NFV. They force providers to replicate yesterday's network design paradigms which will substantially inhibit agility and increase costs, and impair long term objectives to deliver new services more quickly.

Customers deploying Nominum in their virtualized infrastructure get much more than industry-leading DNS resolution. They can readily unlock application suites to offer a foundational layer of security to consumers and businesses that strongly complements their access service offering. Additional applications can be used to message subscribers, improve overall network security and substantially enhance Big Data initiatives by seamlessly integrating DNS data with existing systems.

We'll be talking a lot more about virtualization, clouds and NFV, as well best practices for deploying DNS services in these environments so stay tuned!

1Early Mover CSPs' 6 Strategies to Bring SDN and NFV to Life - Gartner, March 2017