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The pressure to operationalize network functions virtualization (NFV) platforms is escalating, and while the industry is still sorting out the dynamics around new business models, licensing structures, and expanding partner ecosystems, there is one thing NFV vendors and communication service providers (CSPs) agree on for 2019: more automation.

This is reminiscent of mid-2017 when CSP demand for "cloud-native" technology became stronger – 18 months later, cloud-based architectures are in production. The rumblings around increased automation for service assurance, for virtual network function (VNF) onboarding and service chaining, and for improved network operations have become louder, particularly in the last eight months. Therefore, automation will be 2019's primary NFV technology integration as CSPs prepare their networks for 5G.

Over the last three to four years, CSPs have been in initial NFV stages, focusing on virtualizing specific network functions or instances, figuring out how to turn them on or off, and deciding where more compute is needed. This year, the industry will move further into NFV deployments by automating the lifecycle of service deployment, upgrading, scaling, and fault self-healing at the software layer of the infrastructure. This is where NFV becomes essential for network optimization. NFV has built-in concepts around how to automate workflows and operations, such as infrastructure management, resources optimization, and lifecycle management of applications and services across the network. By integrating more automation software into these processes, CSPs plan to reduce opex, and to deliver a faster time to market for VNFs or services.

However, challenges to automating NFV platforms will remain, particularly around VNF onboarding. Once CSPs have VNFs up and running, it will become more important to integrate these virtualized elements with service orchestration and other existing B/OSS systems to allow for ongoing monitoring and configuration of the VNFs. CSPs face an uphill battle in VNF automation, since different VNFs often have vendor-proprietary interfaces that are challenging to manage across hybrid networks. However, the vendor community is vying to be the trusted partner that will help CSPs scale and automate in a multivendor VNF environment across both the physical and virtual networking domains. Leading vendors will participate in the increased standardization of interfaces and open APIs for VNF management and this, in turn, will help CSPs stretch automation across their full networks.

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