It may not roll off the tongue, but the term "softwarization" is slowly becoming a buzzword in the communications service provider domain.
Though not as hot as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), softwarization, according to an IEEE SDN initiative, can be considered an overall transformation which includes cloud computing, SDN and NFV, impacting telecommunications and ICT industries. It is very important that CSPs understand this transformation in a more holistic way, rather than confining themselves into individual components. While it's not necessary (and not required) to implement everything at once, having an overall idea about the total transformation is critical. This allows CSPs to have an incremental introduction of different capabilities resulting in the introduction of one or two use cases and the ability to start monetizing.
Softwarization with tools like SDN, NFV and cloud fuels the overall business transformation of the CSP into a digital services provider (DSP) -- a much needed and timely requirement to compete with their cloud counterparts. Both technology and business transformation seem to promise to bring down capital and operations costs by introducing automation and increase revenues through agile new service introductions with low time to market. The flexibility, agility, dynamism, automation and programmability softwarization brings really revolutionizes the way the CSP operate in today's market.
While there are many challenges in this transformation, CSPs are slowly tackling them. The first major technology transformation of moving from the Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) circuit switched based Old Generation Network(OGN) to IP/Ethernet packet switching Next Generation Network (NGN) was evolutionary. However, moving from NGN to a vNGN (Virtualized NGN) based Software Generation Network (SGN) is revolutionary. With the introduction of virtualization -- a technology very much proven inside the data center -- to WAN and transport networks, CSPs can introduce automation and bring in DevOps operation processes.
The technology challenges, compared to non-technical challenges, are slowly being addressed, with the support of many stakeholders, including standard developing organizations (SDOs), CSPs, open source communities, vendors, system integrators and many more. The level of collaboration happening within open source communities, especially within that of Linux Foundation projects, is remarkable. Almost all vendors now use some form of open source code to develop their tools.
However, non-technical challenges -- like the skills gap and changing the organizational culture -- have become the major roadblocks for the quick adoption of virtualization, automation and DevOps in CSP domains. That's something CSPs themselves must address to a greater extent. Traditionally being used to a world of hardware, CSPs are both physically and mentally reluctant to step in to the world of software.
Some of these challenges actually can become opportunities for other stakeholders in the ecosystem -- not to compete, but to collaborate in a win-win situation. For example, training providers can provide the relevant education to address the skills gap. The Open Networking Foundation (ONF) already has a certification for SDN and MEF is soon going to introduce one. There are many other third-party training providers. Recruitment agencies can help CSPs find new blood if necessary. The lack of capabilities and resources need not be a hindrance for CSPs to start doing things. CSPs can partner with system integrators to conduct proofs of concepts together with freely available open source resources. Vendors can also partner with CSPs to do testing and experiments. In fact, there are many CSP-vendor collaborations and partnerships taking place in many parts of the world in terms of SDN and NFV. The main targets have been on low-hanging fruits to commercialize few simple use cases.
Truly speaking, softwarzation has created lot of opportunities to everyone. The question is who grabs what and when. The very success of the cloud business model and that of cloud service providers is based on open collaboration. CSPs too need to step into this approach. They must discover new business models and adopt them faster. The APIs of the future will work through the boundaries of different domains -- CSPs, application providers, etc. -- and so will cash flows. As a result, CSPs will soon penetrate different adjacent businesses and markets, blurring traditional boundaries, and building a much broader and sustainable ecosystem.
— Anuradha Udunuwara, senior engineer at Sri Lanka Telecom, is a frequent speaker at industry conferences, including Broadband World Forum.