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Network

virtualization:

How to enable

virtualization

with 5G

Author: Gary Hilson

Network virtualization and 5G-enabled solutions like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence go hand in hand. Distributing a machine's full capacity across many users or environments can help increase efficiency—a key driver of the 5G use cases that organizations are looking to leverage for a competitive advantage.

But to capture the full breadth of applications that the next-generation network makes possible, organizations first need a thorough understanding of how to enable virtualization.

Network virtualization: Key architecture concepts drive the path to 5G

New network architecture concepts are changing how traditional mobile networks are deployed. 5G networks in particular will be able to provide customers with the potential to address their specific business needs, more quickly and efficiently.

End-to-end software-defined networks make network slicing possible and let you adapt networks based on traffic conditions and customize networks for specific users and applications. In a software-defined network, software is decoupled from the hardware in large-scale 5G virtualization. This disaggregation reduces capital expenses on equipment and diversifies hardware sourcing, which is further aided by open standards for application programming interfaces between and within network domains.

With the increasing trend towards replacing traditional networking hardware functions using software, advances in virtualization techniques have been extended to now include lightweight container compute elements which are substantially more resource efficient than traditional, standard virtual machines (VM).

Deployment of infrastructure at the edge can also provide benefits. Edge deployment enables caching close to the user, which improves latency and boosts the user experience. It also optimizes hardware usage, improves efficiency and supports network scalability.

How to enable virtualization to drive 5G value

Understanding how to enable virtualization at scale is an essential part of deploying a solution capable of realizing the promise of 5G.

Organizations in every industry are looking to improve systems by tapping into big data gathered by distributed IoT devices. Enterprises looking to deploy artificial intelligence to rapidly analyze vast amounts of data and inform business decision-making and systems optimization will require the speed, performance and security of 5G.

Constant video communications and content—including video generated by industrial management systems, security surveillance systems and traffic control systems—means significant and continuous streams of traffic traversing wireless networks. The ongoing adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality could spike data volume across next-generation networks at an unprecedented rate.

All this traffic requires a vast, robust, secure and ultra-fast network that connects the computing capabilities of devices, processors and sensors, many of which are deployed at the edge. It also requires a virtualized infrastructure—one that is dynamic and automated and provides agility, efficiency and scalability but is not expensive or unwieldy.

Virtualization that enables software-controlled network functions across diverse technologies lets you allocate network resources to specific users, customers, applications and service categories—all without dedicated hardware and costly, time-consuming physical adjustments. It also lets you take advantage of 5G capabilities such as network slicing, as you can overlay several virtual networks on a shared physical infrastructure. Network slicing is expected to play a key role in enabling new uses, such as smart city applications, Industry 4.0 and autonomous vehicles. But the requirements for these new uses vary widely in terms of speed, latency, stability and security.

Securing the virtual network

Like all new architectures, large-scale 5G network virtualization creates new considerations alongside new opportunities. 5G virtualization is more flexible, but it can also create a larger attack surface because so many more devices are connected to the network. Exploiting capabilities such as network slicing requires new skill sets and expertise.

Many IoT devices and devices deployed at the edge do not have strong built-in security features. Combine that with the diversity of devices and the applications they support, and 5G security becomes complex. The new architecture does not work on the familiar hardware-based hub-and-spoke model, and it does not feature the hardware choke points that provide a useful security mechanism. And as much as software contributes to 5G's flexibility, its hackability means bad actors can hijack automated processes.

Network virtualization can present a security solution. It can provide the end-to-end security 5G requires by deploying it virtually to any network location. And it can enable rapid automated fixes by leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning for more effective threat detection and remediation.

The diverse use cases promised by 5G can be most effectively realized by reengineering network architectures while keeping end-to-end security in mind at every step. By understanding how to enable virtualization, you can unlock the agility, openness and responsiveness of any 5G deployment and enhance overall network security at the same time.

Discover what 5G can do for your organization.