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I attended Light Reading’s “NFV & Carrier SDN” conference last week in Denver. There were more than a couple of heated exchanges among industry leaders on the importance and differences between industry, vendor, and operator led standards and implementations. To a Martian, these debates would have appeared a mishmash of incompatible views and directions.

But at lunch and during breaks, we talked. And I heard a fairly consistent vision of future networks and services: one where operator services straddle the network and IT realms, with a bias toward cloud innovation; where standard computing platform usage vastly surpasses that of proprietary, vendor specific hardware; and where network capabilities and services are provided by software based services that are discrete by nature, highly available, and provided in an on-demand fashion.

"Network virtualization investment to be $70B+ through 2020" (Heavy Reading)

So what’s the point of virtualization? The initial interest has broadly been to cut costs. Find a project that can be done the same way as before, only this time on cheaper hardware, and "voilà", we have a virtualized deployment. Yes, these deployments are win-wins for everyone.

But this is just a partial view of a larger story of industry transformation. For network virtualization really gets interesting once we get the standardized infrastructure more widely in place. Then we should be able to get the very positive economies and scale of the cloud working for operators and their customers.

“In the future, we won’t have…one-size-fits-all, pre-built network(s)…We’ll stand network components up on demand, based on what customers want...”
--MSO Network Engineer

Although industry debates may rage on, the direction and the proof points for network virtualization are much clearer than they were just a couple short years ago. In fact a select few operators may be dramatically ramping their investment in this area as we speak. See AT&T to Virtualize 75 Percent of its Network by 2020

And for others, this transition is occurring in a somewhat more deliberate and orderly manner—with R&D and testing, standard and architectural analysis, and some deployments with more to come. It appears that the shift is underway, and I am looking forward to the opportunities and potential ahead.

Topics: NFV, Network Functions Virtualization, Virtualization, Light Reading, ATT