Major Themes of the Big Communications Event 2016 Part 1 – Virtualization and Security
The LightReading Big Communications Event (BCE) for 2017 was held May 24th and 25th in Austin, Texas. The attendees list was strong and the presentations were certainly worth the cost of admission. The show presented a microcosm of the significant issues and themes confronting the telecommunications industry as a whole, with a significant focus on virtualization of network functionality. Other major themes of the show included security, automation, and disaggregation. All of these topics showed up throughout vendor and service provider presentations alike.
Nearly every talk given at the show included virtualization in one way or another, even if virtualization was not ostensibly the subject of the talk. Functions that were to be virtualized ran the gamut from virtualization of security features to AT&T’s planned virtualization of every function in their network. SDN was also present as a theme, but not as strongly represented as virtualization.
Hybrid virtual network function (VNF) deployment was a key part of the virtualization story this time around. There are two dimensions to hybrid VNFs. The first is deployment models that distribute functionality between the customer premises, the network, and the cloud. The second is hybrid NFV platforms that use accelerators to enhance COTS servers. For example, statements from service providers and vendors at the show indicate that it will become commonplace to accelerate NFV deployment in data-flow-intensive processing applications such as DDoS protection.
The ultimate virtualization showcase was the live VNF demonstration on the show floor sponsored by the New IP Agency (NIA) and EANTC, a unique feature of BCE and one that added significant overall value and grounding in the real world of VNF implementation.
It’s clear that virtualization is finally moving out of the demonstration and proof-of-concept phase into real world deployments. It’s less clear what the revenue model will be for virtualization ongoing, as the most of the industry has been very dependent on sales of boxes for its entire history. Companies that can figure it out will thrive, companies that miss the virtualization bandwagon will likely struggle to remain relevant.
Security was nearly as ubiquitous as virtualization in the presentations at the Big Communications Event. Throughout the show there was broad recognition of security’s growing importance. However, there was acknowledgment that detailed understanding of the topic is limited to an “experts community” that is not always well represented at telecommunications shows like this one. Interest in security was obvious from the well-attended security track of speakers, which included ECI representation. Topics on security ranged from encryption at the optical layer and layers 2 and 3 to VNF-based security as a driver for wider VNF deployment.
As cloud-based services and networks are integrated into more aspects of our lives and as network automation increasingly becomes a reality, security becomes a critical part of network strategy and will continue to grow as a topic of interest to telecommunications providers. It is less clear how much of that security function will be handled by traditional telecommunications companies and how much will be handled by traditionally IT-focused companies, both at the vendor and at the service provider level.
In the next Big Communications Event -related blog post, the important issue of networking automation will be covered plus disaggregation as a continuous area of debate.