Operations Managers are very familiar with all the reasons their appliance-based networking infrastructure needs to be reconsidered—they live the problem constantly, day in and day out.  Speed is the key driver urging them to find alternate ways to deploy new network functions and services—the traditional model of appliance-based network hardware simply does not allow for fast updates or service rollout.  Other problematic aspects of this old model include overhead costs, specialized skill sets required by dedicated hardware appliances, underutilization of existing appliances, and the cost-prohibitive nature of high availability with network appliances. Operations personnel are looking for more flexible and cost-effective ways to keep pace.

By virtualizing network functions, operations teams can keep pace with demand, spinning up virtualized instances to support new server and application requirements, reducing deployment time from weeks to hours or even minutes.  Moving to a virtualized infrastructure model such as Cisco’s Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure, or NFVi, isn’t really a question of “should” or “could” for operations managers—it’s a question of “when” and “how soon”?  The trend toward virtualized network functions has reached critical mass.

To solve for the problems of speed, scalability, and flexibility brought on by the break-neck pace of server and application demands, Network Operations Managers are looking to Cisco’s NFVi to be a silver bullet, and in many ways it is.  Virtualized networking functions help customers break out of the outdated model of appliance-based networking hardware.

New Powerful Solutions with a Catch

The aspects of NFVi that make it so powerful and flexible also make it difficult to maintain.  The following list contains some characteristics that make it particularly tricky from a Day 2 operate perspective:

  1. Mixed technologies that the NFVi platform comprises
  2. Workflow and orchestration configurations
  3. Linux KVM
  4. Software elements and features such as OVS and SR-IOV
  5. Integration points (APIs)
  6. Infrastructure capacity management

The last one—infrastructure capacity management—is a key aspect of monitoring and maintaining NFVi environments.  It is one of the most concerning challenges to the entire infrastructure.  Effectively monitoring and maintaining NFVi to ensure scalability and adequate capacity includes proactive assurance of current-state capacity and enough comprehensive information to perform the necessary forward capacity planning.  Once deployed, NFVi depends on awareness of existing capacity and proper allocation of remaining capacity for component virtual services to operate without incident.  It is critical that future planning of resource allocation be taken into account during the entire operations lifecycle.  The ability to chart resource consumption and perform trend analysis helps avoid shortage of resources that would inhibit deployment of new mission-critical network services.  Too often, operations managers make these realizations too late.

Because of these operational complexities NFVi introduces, operations managers need to seek out and recruit technical professionals with a new mix of skills and capabilities.  These skills are necessary to maintain NFVi-powered environments.  Virtualization shifts the burden and focus of incident and problem management away from isolated appliances and onto diversified and sophisticated software stacks.  Managing this new type of infrastructure requires a new breed of operations personnel, one with expanded capabilities around software and DevOps environments.  Assembling such a team can be burdensome not only on the operations managers, but also recruiting personnel who support them.

NFVi solves a lot of current problems and can be the basis for a next-generation network scalable and flexible enough to handle the new digital enterprise.  It also brings challenges to operations managers who must be aware of these needs and assemble the right team to provide Day 2 operations for NFVi-powered networks.

What’s An Operations Manager To Do?

What we’re talking about here is total network transformation to meet the growing needs of a transformed, digital, and mobile-ready environment.  These environments are bandwidth hungry and pose even further complications during capacity planning and monitoring.  Operations managers have two choices:  go-it-alone by trying to assemble the right team internally, or secure the assistance of a reputable and capable managed services provider to assist in this radical transformation.

The go-it-alone approach opens the enterprise up to risk.  It’s not only risky to try to build in-house expertise to manage something as critical and sophisticated as NFVi, it’s downright expensive.  Furthermore, the ongoing operations can and will provide many incidents and problems that, at best, defocus the new IT team and, at worst, encourage lengthy outages.  These are risks most network-dependent enterprises simply can’t chance.

Managed services are the only other viable option.  Unfortunately, many enterprises resist bringing in outside help, seeing it as a perception problem both internally and externally.  The fact of the matter is that reliance on managed services are often viewed as outsourcing and a sign of an enterprise in decline, or at least one in which expansion is halted.  IT employees can draw their own, and often incorrect, conclusions that their jobs are on the chopping block.  Let’s face it—anybody from the outside can be looked upon with suspicion within an enterprise.  These misconceptions often lead companies to forego the help they desperately need to manage a next-generation infrastructure powered by NFVi.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  An experienced provider of managed services is not in the business of replacing internal staff.  Rather, they partner with customers, augmenting skill sets while helping to grow internal capabilities.  They enable customers to refocus their IT staff on the mission-critical business of supporting applications and application-based services, end users, and the end-user experience.  Network transformation is a journey for the enterprise—managed services can guide the customer along the way, managing the transformation while allowing the enterprise to focus on its core business.

Operations managers have two options:  grow in-house skills necessary to effectively manage NFVi, or rely on a provider of managed services to help out.  The right managed services provider can make all the difference in the success or failure of network transformation to NFVi.

Managed Services Capabilities Fill in the Gaps

Cisco’s Cloud and Managed Services group, provides a complete portfolio of Day 2 Operate services and capabilities that increase the overall availability of IT and enable the customer to focus on accelerating innovation inline with the demands of their business.  Our capabilities for NFVi include component and subcomponent discovery, dynamic component mapping, and full component monitoring and management, including capacity and performance metrics.

In addition to maintaining the health of the solution components, CMS tracks resource allocation (such as CPU cores, memory, and disks) and applies analytics to estimate the number of VNFs that can be accommodated based on the current allocation and capacity and trends over a three-month period.  We then deliver this information in the form of a report published in the customer services portal. This information is provided to your operations team across the globe via the Cisco web portal.  Cisco will also include recommended actions for you to consider and can provide the services and solutions to implement those recommendations to further lessen the burden on your current organization.

Cisco’s Cloud and Managed Services group (CMS) has a full suite of outcome-based capabilities, enabling customers undergoing transformation to a next-generation NFVi-based network infrastructure to leverage our highly-experienced personnel, industry-leading best practices, and actionable insights.

Taking the Next Step

To learn more about Managed Services NFVi offer, read our white paper here: http://www.cisco.com/c/dam/en_us/services/it-case-studies/docs/nfvi-wp.pdf