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The most crucial element in any mobile network is something that can be seen only in the abstract — the subscriber. This means that subscriber data is by far a mobile operator’s most valuable asset. As an increasing number of operators prepare to migrate their Subscriber Data Management (SDM) systems to the cloud, a strategic approach is needed to ensure that critical data is protected and potential challenges are addressed from the outset.
In a Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) environment, integration of new applications is typically a matter of allocation, saving operators the time and expense of procuring, racking and integrating servers, network and storage. The dynamic scalability of NFV allows operators to meet demand on the fly, allocating resources as needed to ensure peak performance even on the busiest of days. For those applications that don’t require database access, dynamic scaling is easy to accomplish. However, in the case of subscriber-aware applications, the need to integrate with provisioning systems makes the process much more complex, time-consuming and costly.
For some operators who take a typical operations-led approach, they find themselves addressing NFV deployment in piecemeal fashion, virtualizing new applications or those that require additional capacity first. Other operators see NFV as an opportunity to redesign their data network strategically. In order to avoid missing out on the inherent agility of NFV technology, network operators need to treat SDM as a service to other network applications, rather than as just another application. This approach of centralizing the SDM system not only facilitates integration of new applications, it also helps operators meet performance requirements and plan capacity for future growth.
To accomplish this, forward-looking operators are building SDM into their NFV infrastructure from the start, putting in a virtual User Data Repository (UDR) as one of the first subscriber-aware applications in the NFV cloud. With this holistic approach, one-to-one provisioning integration is not needed, and subscriber-related information is readily available to applications that want to use it once the vUDR is in place. Operators can quickly benefit from greater agility when introducing subscriber-aware applications.
Yet virtualization of the UDR can be challenging. SDM platforms need to be able to rebalance and redistribute data seamlessly, requiring scale-in / out functionality while maintaining data integrity, resiliency and other telco-grade features such as geo redundancy and ‘five-nines’ availability. Moreover, operators need the capability to add and remove nodes in the virtual environment with zero impact on performance, sustaining the functional integrity of front-end applications that are dependent on this platform. Ultimately, the SDM system should be able to scale up to meet peak loads and scale down when the peak load subsides.
Planning is Everything
When planning a virtualized SDM system, it should be designed in a way that new nodes can be automatically added, either based on load and resource utilization (eg CPU utilization greater than 80 percent), or according to preconfigured settings such as adding 20 percent more capacity before peak hour starts. As nodes are added or removed, rebalancing of the data among currently active nodes is required, but this redistribution of data should happen “behind the scenes”, without impacting the normal operation of the system and without requiring any manual intervention. It’s important to remember that any impact on the normal operations of the SDM system could have catastrophic consequences including network outage.
With all the subscriber data centralized in the SDM system, all applications can see and access one centralized view of the subscriber information, enabling smaller VM/storage requirements and contributing to operational savings – without data duplication. This capability eliminates data errors caused by doubling, thereby helping to avoid customer complaints related to erroneous provisioning. Likewise, changes to subscriber data can be applied without impacting the applications that rely on subscriber information.
While it’s true that virtualization of a stateful entity such as the SDM system presents a new set of challenges, these can be addressed right at the outset of your NFV migration. To read more, be sure to register for our NFV Playbook and learn how to take a strategic, holistic view of the Subscriber Data Management system, a key technology that must underpin the successful outcome of any NFV initiative.