Steps to Take Toward Network Virtualization

One of the first questions I am asked by operators considering network virtualization is “What specific steps should I take to get started?”

The broad answer is create a strategy. Understand what you want to virtualize, what you hope to gain from it, and be willing to commit the resources – both human and financial – to bring it about.

The “why” of it is straightforward – it’s the technology of the future. The longer you delay making the change, the further behind you’ll fall in the market, the more obsolete your existing systems will be, and the harder it will be to make the change.

That makes it sound both inevitable and grim – but virtualization actually has an extensive upside.

First, moving to virtualization represents cost avoidance; doing this reduces the need for future CapEx (capital expenditures). I don’t think anyone can prove virtualization can be monetized, but over time it also will reduce OpEx (operating expenditures).

Just as important, once your network has been virtualized, it provides certain technology advantages. You will be able to make adjustments to the network and develop new products and services much faster, giving yourself the chance to pull ahead of the competition.

You may be looking for more concrete actions, something that can be laid out in a memo, turned into marching orders, and given to employees to execute.

In that case, the first step is to take inventory. Have a full asset understanding of every piece on the existing network – its functions, what it does, the ins and outs. That’s what I call the architecture strategy of the existing network.

The next step is to identify what parts of that network to virtualize. This could range from replacing elements of the existing network, overlaying new capabilities on parts that aren’t going to change, or both.

Network teams must have a good understanding of the virtualization products and services on the market. Picking the right vendor(s) – with the products, services, expertise, and resources that best suit your company’s unique needs – will lay the foundation for virtualization success.

You can find out-of-the-box solutions that can be easily plugged in. Or you can bring in developers, programmers, and network architects to create the ad hoc solutions that best address your needs. In that scenario, your team has to be able to manage programmers and software development cycles such as agile or scrum. Then, you have to be able to aggregate all those different steps to be sure you’ve got the right networks.

And don’t overlook the impact on your employees and their skillsets. Once you commit to virtualization, employees will need different training, particularly in IT skills. You have to be willing to make that commitment, because every business in the world is chasing the same talent pool.

In other words, this is a long-term process, not something that’s going to get done in one year.

Finally – and this is big – you have to bring the virtual network into the lab and test it. In my next blog post I’ll talk about how to validate virtualization will deliver what you expect before you make the big switch.

— Shervin Gerami


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