Skepticism at the Top: A Case Study in NFV Deployment

As discussed in my previous blog, Silos Never Die: A Case Study in NFV Deployment, despite considerable investment and effort, Communications Service Providers (CSPs) have been slow to realize the advantages of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software Defined Networking (SDN). A recently published white paper, Bridging the IT/Network Operations Gap to Accelerate NFV Deployment and Achieve Operational Excellence, identifies major stumbling blocks keeping operators from fully leveraging the agility, dynamic scaling, and efficiency advantages of network virtualization.

In this third CSP NFV and final deployment case study, we look at the role of C-level leadership in NFV program success and how to gain CXO commitment.

Case Study #3: Skepticism at the Top

The IT and Network Operations groups at a large Tier 1 CSP agreed on one thing: a major competitor was close to capitalizing on NFV/SDN and it would take quick, bold action to keep pace.

At the C-level, however, executives were skeptical. They detected a high degree of hype—and risk—in NFV/SDN. Some even predicted that public failure and big cost overruns would be the outcome of their competitor’s ambitious transformation program.

Cautious Tactical Trials

Fearing that problems with a large-scale NFV/SDN deployment had the potential to knock out half of their services, senior executives took a conservative, tactical approach.

Rather than moving forward with a holistic, enterprise transformation strategy, architecture and operating model, they limited NFV to one-node trials, with each virtualized network function thoroughly unit-, module-, regression-, performance- and scale-tested before proceeding to the next.

Focused on the cost savings to be had from separating network function from underlying hardware, the CXOs failed to recognize the need for a new operational model and skill sets to reap the benefits; and slow to fund hiring, training, and/or external consultants.

The IT and Network department teams, working together on the NFV trials, did what they could to manage. IT shared their experience managing virtualized environments with the network group while Linux teams were encouraged to advance trials of open source solutions and increased participation in industry standards groups.

Playing Catch Up

It was only when faced with the very public success of their competitor—including incremental revenue, agility and cost-savings—that CSP senior management changed their approach, approving an aggressive SD-WAN roll-out, funding a formal training program, and moving forward with an initiative to manage distributed virtualized edge network nodes and functions through a common platform.

However, even today, the CSP remains a year or two behind its competitor and has yet to launch a single, strategic program for enterprise-wide conversion to the NFV/SDN model.

Getting CXOs On-board

In our experience, the most difficult and typically unforeseen obstacles to NFV/SDN are operational and organizational—not technical. In this case, IT and Network Operations were on the same page, but the C-level was not. A fundamental transformation of network architecture and operation is not possible without the informed, sustained support (if not leadership) of senior management.

Building the Business Case

Indeed, even with an enthusiastic C-Suite, the first step in developing the right NFV/SDN transformation strategy is building the business case—including ROI and financial modeling in the context of the CSP’s business and objectives. Initially, high-level, single-VNF analysis can be used to justify more detailed, multiple-scenario modeling and sensitivity analyses to more precisely quantify the benefits to be accrued from NFV/SDN deployment.

Because people and process are integral to the successful deployment and operationalization of NFV/SDN, the business case should include an objective assessment of the current organization/operation—compared to the organizational structure, operating model, processes required for NFVi management.

In addition, C-level executives (and, often, Network Operations teams) may require presentations that show how a well-architected and orchestrated NFV/SDN infrastructure can deliver reliability and resiliency that is equal-or-better-than the existing physical network.

First Step on the Roadmap

As the chart below shows, a solid business case provides the foundation for defining next steps in a phased, multi-dimensional roadmap for planning and executing NFV/SDN across people, process and technology.

Dell EMC Methodology for the Transformation Journey


As our blog series of CSP Case Studies shows, every situation is different. There is no “right” model for deploying NFV/SDN technology—all decisions and options involve trade-offs.

To delve deeper into successful NFV deployments, download the new Dell EMC white paper Bridging the IT/Network Operations Gap to Accelerate NFV Deployment and Achieve Operational Excellence. Based on research with MST Consulting and Dell EMC experience with than 2,000 successful cloud implementations, the paper describes approaches and methodologies that can help mitigate risk and provide CSPs with a new perspective on the right next step for their company.

About the Author: Laddie Suk

Laddie leads a cross-functional Dell Technologies Consulting team focused on digital transformation and industry solutions. He is a seasoned industry veteran with deep experience across multiple industries, solutions, and technologies. As a former Verizon Network CIO and Network Executive at AT&T and Bell Labs, he has extensive hands-on experience in leading strategic network and IT development projects and managing communication service provider environments. He has also led strategic and tactical engagements in network transformation, IT transformation, and business process and performance improvement for clients throughout the Americas.