Studies started in year:
 Projects and Studies


Network Virtualisation – Opportunities and Challenges for operators
For further information please contact:

Adam Kapovits
Programme Manager
Wieblinger Weg 19/4
69123 Heidelberg, Germany

Project Information
What is this Project about?

Interest in network virtualisation has been growing rapidly amongst research and industry communities in the last few years, fostered by the combination of several trends:

  • Significant advances and increasing maturity of virtualisation technologies, namely operating system virtualisation, which paved way to the widespread deployment of virtualisation technologies in data centres;
  • Emergence of “cloud-based” technologies (cloud computing, “Infrastructure as a Service”), enabling the delivery of computing resources as a service, in which virtualisation technologies typically play a key role;
  • Quest for new Internet paradigms, freed from the limitations of IP; increasingly evident limitations of the traditional IP model to provide a future-proof solution to networking requirements and cope with the myriad of present and future Internet applications and services.
In the research domain, different network virtualisation concepts are studied and first prototype implementations are available, e.g. Openflow (

The combination of these aspects will potentially introduce major changes to how networks are deployed, managed and operated. In addition, it can impose disruptive changes in the telecoms’ traditional business model.

From network operators’ perspective, the potential benefits of network virtualisation are multifold and can be explored in multiple dimensions:
  • Minimizing the cost of network ownership by sharing infrastructure;
  • Generating new revenues by reselling infrastructure to third parties or building new managed services;
  • Improving agility by facilitating the rapid deployment of new network technologies;
  • Enabling virtual presence of operators in remote geographic locations with no need of heavy investments in network infrastructure;
  • Isolation of network resources sharing a common infrastructure, ensuring the coexistence of production and testing environments.
  • Enabling smooth technology migration (e.g. IPv4/IPv6).

Perhaps most important of all, network virtualisation enables technological diversity rather than the “one-size-fits-all” approach advocated by IP convergence (or ATM convergence, in the past), while at the same time taking advantage of the economies enabled by running and maintaining a single network infrastructure.

On the other hand, by effectively decoupling services from infrastructure, network virtualisation paves the way to disruptive changes in the traditional business models and to the emergence of new business roles.

In the last few years, significant research activities have been launched in the area of network virtualisation. In Europe, in the framework of FP7, projects such as 4WARD, Reservoir and Federica have focused in some way on network virtualisation issues. In the US, GENI, CABO and VINI initiatives have been active in this area, as well. However, these initiatives have focused mainly on architectural frameworks and on the exploration of virtualisation as a key tool to enable future Internet architectures. An operator-centric evaluation of virtualisation and a roadmap for network virtualisation deployment by operators are still largely missing.

Standardization in this field is at a very incipient stage. The “Focus Group on Future Networks” was set up to collect and identify visions of future networks. One of the deliverables to be produced by the Focus Group will be a framework of network virtualisation. In addition, an IRTF Network Virtualization Research Group is currently being setup, with a draft charter under preparation.  

In summary, the full impact of the changes enabled by network virtualisation has not been fully understood yet, but it is clear that both opportunities and hurdles lie ahead for network operators. The deployment of network virtualisation imposes new requirements and raises new challenges in relation to how networks are provisioned, managed and controlled today.

Focus and approach of the study

The study shall:

  1. Provide a survey on the state of the art of network virtualisation, including vendor roadmaps, research activities and standardization;

  2. Collect requirements from an operator’s point of view with regards to network virtualisation;

  3. Identify opportunities for operators offered by network virtualisation and explore scenarios based on network virtualisation;

  4. Identify major obstacles against widespread adoption of network virtualisation in large scale commercial scenarios;

  5. Identify possible threats posed by network virtualisation from the perspective of network operators, particularly with regard to possible disruptive changes in traditional business models;

  6. Analyse the cross-impacts of network virtualisation with other emerging trends, such as cloud computing and IaaS;

  7. Outline a roadmap for deployment of network virtualisation;

  8. Identify possible areas for standardization;

  9. Identify areas for further exploration and research.

What are the main objectives of this Project?

In summary, the goals of this study are to:

  • Assess the real potential of network virtualisation from a network operator perspective in the short/medium term, namely as a tool for optimal service delivery and a service rollout facilitator;

  • Evaluate network virtualisation in the medium/long term, mainly as an enabler of technological diversity and a migration tool to new Internet architectures and network technologies;

  • Describe possible scenarios for network virtualisation deployment, both in short and long term time scales;

  • Analyse new business roles and new business models emerging from network virtualisation;

  • Evaluate interoperability issues and identify areas requiring standardisation;

  • Outline a roadmap leading to the adoption of network virtualisation by network operators.

Project participants:

  • Deutsche Telekom
  • Iceland Telecom
  • Portugal Telecom
  • Türk Telekomünikasyon
Project Results
Deliverable Title  No Issue date
Network Virtualisation – opportunities and challenges for operators   D1 December 2010
Network Virtualisation – opportunities and challenges for operators (slide set)   D2 December 2010