Virtualization of the Enterprise network edge allows businesses to replace multiple branch devices – responsible for routing, firewall, WAN optimization, etc. – with a single connectivity and server device running multiple Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs). For enterprises, it helps simplify IT operations, introduces flexibility and promises long-term operational cost benefits. For telecom service providers, offering it on top of existing connectivity services provides major new upsell opportunities and helps strengthen customer loyalty, potentially boosting lifetime revenues.

In the case of telcos, benefits of offering a virtualized services portfolio naturally go beyond just the enterprise customer premise. VNFs can be deployed on servers in regional data centers, and even in street cabinets and other edge locations. In doing so, service providers can bring bandwidth and digital applications closer to their customers to support QoS and latency requirements – maximizing their near and longer-term competitive advantage.

So why isn’t everyone doing it?

While the benefits are clear and enterprises are definitely ripe to realize them, creating and delivering a virtualized services portfolio can be a complex proposition for a service provider. Both technical and operational challenges associated with achieving this are, admittedly, not insignificant.

First of all, it requires close collaboration with a broad ecosystem of VNF and hardware providers – something telecom operators have not traditionally been guilty of, typically preferring linear, vendor/customer relationships. These don’t lend themselves too well to the inherently fragmented world of virtualization. Secondly – on the technical level, integrating, orchestrating, and testing multiple VNFs (from firewalls and load balancers, to virtualized encryption devices) on a single device architecture can be an intricate task.

Rather than addressing these challenges head-on, some service providers decide to “walk around them” by choosing VNFs from a single provider – in an attempt to make their virtualized services portfolio simpler and less risky. But this approach has its drawbacks. Notably, the downside comes in the form of vendor lock-in and limited choice of VNFs, cutting enterprise end users off from best of breed solutions that could deliver more value. This is particularly important for those larger (and potentially more lucrative) customers, which may have their own VNF preferences or even have plans to develop and run proprietary virtualized applications at the edge.

Due to these challenges, some service providers – including tier 1 carriers – end up stalling their edge virtualization plans.

3 key ways to fast-track your virtualization roadmap

Can it be done, then? As a service provider looking into the topic of virtualized services, can you accelerate and future-proof your strategy in this area? The answer is yes it can, and the good news is that the right planning and delivery strategy can help reduce complexity and create virtualized services portfolios more quickly. All this means you can begin upselling VNFs alongside your connectivity services sooner.

To achieve these benefits, consider an edge virtualization strategy based on these three key tenets:

1. Openness and interoperability to support truly ‘best-of-breed’ solutions and reduce vendor lock-in risks

As mentioned above, many edge virtualization solutions are proprietary, forcing service providers to bundle VNFs from a single supplier, or at best a very limited range of suppliers.

To ensure a truly best-of-breed solution, consider offering a choice of VNFs from a range of approved vendors, be it SD-WANs, firewalls, load balancers, or other network functions.

By choosing a solution based on open standards, you allow your customers to select the ideal VNFs to support their individual branch needs. This way you enable them to avoid vendor lock-in and be agile enough to adopt new technologies easily and cost effectively in the future. Providing your customers choice and flexibility will also allow you to maintain competitive advantage in the market.

2. Carrier-grade solutions that provide constant uptime and great performance

One of the key reasons why edge virtualization projects end up so complex is that VNFs need to be engineered to interoperate on the same device, which can cause issues with processes such as task scheduling. One way to overcome this is to choose a solution with advanced service chaining and orchestration capabilities that can ensure that all VNFs run in a coordinated and optimal way.

You can do this by choosing a partner that thoroughly pre-tests the selected VNFs on their platform – this further reduces risk and ensures from day one that your chosen solutions work together seamlessly and deliver value to your customers.

3. Specialist skills and resources – with real-world experience of deploying edge virtualization projects at scale

Even if you have skilled teams in-house to work on transformation projects, delivering edge virtualization may be too much of a strain on your time and resources. By choosing to work with a specialist edge virtualization partner with real-world experience, you can de-risk the entire process, and accelerate your time to market.

You can also get great guidance on the VNFs that best meet your customers’ needs, and create a best of breed, highly competitive solution quickly and with confidence.

A glance at Ciena’s own virtualization story

Ciena does have an end-to-end Virtualized Edge solution in its portfolio. Importantly, it incorporates all the technology, skills, and resources a telco needs to build a comprehensive VNF offering more quickly, and with less risk than would otherwise be possible.

Firstly, we provide the support needed to help service providers bring virtualized edge solutions to market successfully and cost effectively – whether you need lots of help, or just a little. We can also help you virtualize infrastructure at your edge locations to help you get closer to your customer and support their next-generation of low-latency apps and services.

Secondly, as the Ciena solution is built on an open virtualization architecture, you can choose both VNFs and connectivity devices from a broad ecosystem of partners – which allows for that best-of-breed approach and helps put your customers in the driving seat.

Lastly, we ensure that all these multi-party solutions work together seamlessly in your environment based on our advanced service chaining and orchestration capabilities, and extensive interoperability testing. With this level of interoperability, you’re free to evolve your virtualized edge solution as you see fit, with no need to redesign your architecture or make other major changes that would carry significant risk to your operations.

Experience does count for a lot too

Perhaps most importantly, however, we’ve done it all before. Ciena has already delivered edge virtualization projects for all kinds of carriers, from tier-1 service providers, to smaller regional operators. Our clients have been able to achieve impressive results in terms of optimizing edge infrastructure and building compelling virtualization solutions for their enterprise customers. 

Take the next step to a virtualized edge

If you’ve made it this far, chances are you may want to find out more about Ciena’s Virtualized Edge solution and how it can help you achieve similar outcomes in your own organization. If that’s the case, please contact us to discuss the possibilities. You can also find out more about Ciena’s Virtualized Edge architecture and services for service providers