In case you missed it, NFV has well and truly arrived! Over the past few months we have seen a continual stream of NFV announcements from the likes of Telefonica, Orange and Velcom to name but a few. CSPs have finally initiated the transition from proof-of-concepts to lab trials and even early NFV deployments. But as the technology progresses, a new question is being raised – how does the role of network engineers need to adapt in a virtualised environment? Laura Herr, vice president of OSS at Orange Business Services addressed this challenge at TMF Live in Nice, explaining:
“It’s a human revolution as well. We need new hard skills on the network and IT side; the hardware guys need to understand what is happening on the OSS side, and the IT people need to understand the network.”
So how are the roles of network engineers actually changing when it comes to NFV?
1. Programming skills are becoming highly sought-after
A traditional network is made up of a large range of highly specialised hardware for specific network domains and service types. Virtualisation will get rid of much of this, instead replacing it with off-the-shelf hardware. Virtualisation software will then sit on top, delivering the equivalent performance of the traditional specialised hardware, but at a reduced cost and with faster configuration times.
The role of the network engineer will therefore become more software led. In fact, network engineers with programming skills have already become a highly sought-after resource. Many network engineers are now beginning to expand their knowledge and skillsets, focusing on Linux operating systems, familiarity with the command line interface and even learning relevant programming languages including Java, Python and C++.
2. Data analytics expertise are more important than ever
One of the key benefits of NFV is the CAPEX savings that will be achieved; CSPs will no longer have to provision for peak capacity at a specified site or region, instead they will be able to increase/decrease capacity as needed. For example, capacity can be increased at an enterprise site Monday to Friday, and then decreased at the weekend. For a major sporting event, capacity can be increased at the stadium for just a few hours surrounding the event.
This new approach to provisioning will mean data analytics know-how will be crucial. Instead of managing the network based on localised performance metrics, network engineers will need to analyse other data sources such as subscriber usage and movement patterns. They will then be able to remotely program the network to provision for constantly changing subscriber usage patterns and demands.
3. The multi-domain network engineer is on the rise
Traditionally network engineers have been heavily focused on one specific network domain. Radio network engineers for example will have an in-depth knowledge of the configuration and integration of radio specific network elements and their associated OSS tools. However, as CSPs transition toward NFV, the multi-domain network engineer has begun to appear.
NFV supports an operational transition from network led operations to service led operations, and for this, network engineers require a broader, multi domain skill set. OSS tools are also embracing this, with many CSPs moving toward end-to-end operational intelligence software that provides not only an overarching view of the entire network, but also elements of the functionality of older, domain specific OSS solutions.
The telecoms industry has traditionally operated in silos, however NFV has clearly triggered a human resource transformation toward a more unified approach to network management. So network engineers are now faced with some skill gaps to bridge which will undoubtedly bring new challenges, but also new opportunities to network engineers on a global scale.