Network Testing Challenges: NFV and SDN

Compressing testing cycles and improving service quality – no longer mutually exclusive


Speed doesn’t need to be sacrificed for quality

Network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are enabling technologies to increase the flexibility and speed to deploy new services at a fraction of the cost of physical networks. Looking ahead to 5G and the proliferation of Internet of Things (IoT) use cases, virtualization and dynamic service chaining will become essential for managing the scale and customization that will be required to connect 25B objects the industry is anticipating.

In a recent report from Coleman-Parkes Research for Amdocs, about half of the 80 service providers surveyed view NFV and SDN as “game-changers” for network testing. It’s likely that number would be much higher if more service providers were closer to implementing NFV and SDN in production networks. In fact, only 58 percent of the survey group are currently reviewing testing requirements for NFV and SDN.

Moving from a tightly integrated stack model into an open, layered architecture and common infrastructure creates new pressures and complexity for network testing. While the ultimate goal of NFV and SDN is to reduce the cost of launching new services and increase the responsiveness of the network, service providers have to make that transition without compromising network performance and quality of experience (QoE).

Shifting from physical to virtual

The shift from physical to hybrid and ultimately virtual infrastructures has significant implications for service assurance and performance monitoring, testing automation and network analytics. For example, in relatively closed physical networks, applications are deployed as distinct entities with well-defined reference points and dedicated hardware stacks. Testing tools can access reference points easily to test interfaces and call flows.

In NFV networks, virtual network functions (VNFs) reside on hypervisors, which share access to compute, storage and network resources. Testing those functions requires in-depth knowledge of virtualized architectures, reference points and interactions with shared resources. The testing needs to include emulating a large number of virtual machines running on various hypervisor types, simulating on-demand provisioning using available resources, and scaling VNFs using triggers and pre-defined thresholds. Active virtual probes are injected into live traffic to test end-to-end flows before the new service is instantiated.

Management tools that provide holistic views of key performance indicators (KPIs) across multiple access networks, physical and virtual elements can drastically reduce manual effort, while offering critical data for service assurance and ongoing optimization.

New technologies, new skills

Despite the increased complexity involved in testing NFV services – both from an architectural standpoint and from the large number of elements working together in open platforms – the expectation is that test cycles can be compressed as part of the rapid build-test-deploy processes.

Service providers are already stretched to meet testing schedules, and the need to re-skill testing teams remains a key challenge. To fill those skill gaps, service providers are increasingly turning to testing specialists with domain expertise in VNF architecture and orchestration to improve service quality and accelerate testing cycles.

To read more on this topic, download the research paper, “Network Testing Challenges and Approaches: Insights from Service Providers Worldwide.”

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