Tackling the Challenges to NFV Deployment

Thursday Oct 5th 2017 by Carl Weinschenk
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Deploying virtualization is very complex by itself. The task of transitioning legacy networks built over decades to operate quite differently makes the task even more difficult.

The road to virtualization is long and complex. The transition from an emphasis on hardware to software is difficult, especially since that complicated software landscape is being developed more or less on the fly.

One of the main reasons that consortia and standards organizations exist is to confront such issues. Two groups recently made announcements that may help NFV navigate the choppy waters of development.

On Tuesday, The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) said that during the past three months, it has released six NFV specifications. They cover, according to the organization, virtual network function (VNF) package structure, the dynamic optimization of packet flow routing and acceleration resource management through to hypervisor domain requirements. Eighteen work projects have been approved.

Those goals are intimidating. The theme, though, is not. The specifications are aimed at ensuring “that widespread multi-vendor interoperability can be achieved.” The task, in other words, is to take a brilliant concept and eliminate or avoid barriers to its widespread success:

This will mean that the numerous integration challenges that the industry currently faces can be fully addressed, and the pace at which NFV roll-out occurs thereby accelerated. As a direct consequence, it will lead to solutions and network services from different vendors being brought to market in the future that are all interoperable with independently developed NFV management and orchestration systems.

Standards groups are a key way in which these transformations occur. Another (and often overlapping) approach is for big companies to create consortia to push their favored approach. Clearly, they think a particular approach is superior, or they wouldn’t have spent the time and money developing it. They also see potential marketplace advantages if the approach they back is heavily represented in eventual standards.

These two types of approaches are tackling a very big challenge. The transition from using virtualization (in the form of a virtualized network function, or VNF) in an isolated instance to deploying it network-wide is immense.

Analyst Lee Doyle, writing at SearchSDN, cites poor scalability, limited interoperability and operational complexity as the key challenges. This management functionality that eventually must meet those challenges comes under the umbrella of NFV orchestration. ETSI and The Linux Foundation’s Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) are open source approaches. Vendor-led initiatives are available from many companies, including Ciena, Cisco, Ericsson, Hewlett Packard, Huawei, Nokia and Oracle.

Meeting these basic challenges is the goal of a multi-vendor alliance announced late last month. It features Dell EMC, Intel, Juniper Networks, Red Hat and VMware. The goal of the consortium is to make the transition from physical to virtual operations as painless as possible. Creating a multi-vendor solution is a vital element of doing this, according to the press release.

In parallel, the alliance has launched the NFV Laboratory. It is aimed at developing a “DevOps” environment that employs a continual and circular process of conceptualizing, developing, deploying, updating, maintaining quality assurance (QA), fixing and otherwise managing NFV. This approach, made common by web giants such as Facebook and Google, shortens timeframes across the board and makes systems more responsive to end users.

Deploying virtualization is very complex by itself. The task of transitioning legacy networks built over decades to operate quite differently makes the task even more difficult. The telecom industry is betting billions of dollars that it will be able to do so.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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