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Drivers for change in the test and measurement market

Ken Gold, Solution Marketing Leader, EXFO
The next big push in test and measurement is the evolution towards virtual network functions (VNF) — enabling any test to be run anywhere at any time by simply instantiating a VNF. This push to network functions virtualization (NFV) is especially interesting for applications where specialized hardware is not required, and instead generic white box platforms (VNF-capable hardware) can host specialized test software. As NFV and software defined networks (SDN) change the way networks are being built and managed, service assurance is taking on a larger, more important role than ever before . With the breaking of the relationship between network architecture and service routing, addressing the challenge of tracking such a dynamic network requires active end-to-end performance monitoring on the network, service and subscriber level to accurately derive quality of service (QoS) metrics.

Making sure bandwidth-hungry and delay-sensitive services are successfully delivered to subscribers will continue to be top-of-mind—both now and in the future as they evolve towards SDN/ NFV. While real-time visibility into latency behavior is important for applications, such as distance-enabled robotic surgery, it can be equally important for much less critical—yet more common—applications, including streaming and interactive gaming. To ensure these applications run smoothly and latency requirements are met, one-way delay should be measured to get an accurate reflection of performance levels. Emerging algorithmic techniques, which do not rely on expensive hardware or packet time protocols for supporting the synchronization needed for one-way metrics, will be critical to any cost-effective implementation.

To get it all done in this expanding world where networks are hitting speeds of400G advancements in automated optical test equipment must continue, delivering smarter tests sets for automated or managed testing. If emphasis is placed on combining test orchestration—the automation of complex network testing routines into simple applications—with a robust analytics solution, operators can expect to see big gains in deployment times. By making even the most complex, high-speed test equipment simple and intuitive, every installer, regardless of skill level, can test like an expert.

This all sounds great, and very promising; however, not all test and measurement solution providers will thrive in this new NFV environment. The ones who will are the vendors that can be as agile as their customers. Virtualizing service assurance functions to keep pace with network equipment manufacturers’ NFV roadmaps, and providing vision and consulting services to make sure operators implement those new solutions quickly are just a few examples of what will set the winners apart from the pack. Larger vendors will have a definite advantage if they can work with niche players to round out their existing portfolio and provide the breadth needed for both legacy and emerging technologies, especially in the access/ last mile, where both licensed and unlicensed wireless solutions are evolving to address new service requirements.

And let’s not forget about the emerging internet of things (IoT), which promises to completely change the way networks operate today. Massive sensor networks with hundreds of thousands of sensors per kilometer and smart, self-driving cars, requiring sub 1mS latency are beyond the capabilities of today’s networks. For carriers to adapt their networks to this new reality, while at the same time protecting the services already in place, will require a deep and continuous view of how the network is performing. At the scale anticipated, automation of just about every aspect of operations will be necessary to handle the tidal wave of IoT services.

With all the promises, changes and uncertainties that follow virtualization, will smarter networks actually deliver? With best-in-class solutions in place for test and measurement as well as service assurance, allowing operators to gain visibility across their networks, the chances are even greater that they will.