The Hat-Trick of Hat-Tricks

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To reference soccer (football, sorry!) terminology, you might call it a hat-trick.

In the past 3 weeks, myself and my colleagues have been to 3 different events in 3 different cities; all of which focused on SDN & NFV in various forms. I suppose you might call it a hat-trick of hat-tricks then?

NFV #5 in Malaga, followed by Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and then straight off to Open Net Summit in Silicon Valley, California. Great for the air-miles collection, not so much for dealing with jet-lag.

But what were the most prominent thoughts and themes to have come out of the road-trip? Here are 3 of the most salient points to be extracted from these vastly differing events:

1)     NFV is alive, and apparently it’s everywhere.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone in the industry who hasn’t, in some way, come across Network Functions Virtualisation at the moment. It is everywhere. After a year and a half of development within ETSI, and a media buzz-come-air of mystery, NFV exploded into life at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. It may have been my, albeit biased, opinion; but there didn’t seem to be a single infrastructure vendor of some description showcasing their NFV solutions. Whether it was HP, Citrix, Intel, whoever, the big guys were out in force to show the world how and why they were in front.

And it wasn’t just the vendors; carriers too were keen to demonstrate their early Proof of Concept work in the field. And it was impressive; China Mobile, SK Telecom, Telefonica & Deutsche Telekom all had live demos & tutorials that touted how NFV (and SDN) were being utilised to soften their network infrastructure, and potentially bring added value to new services.

This was preceded by a trip to Malaga the week prior into the belly of the NFV beast; where decisions are made and the behind-the-scenes work goes on that makes such large-scale demonstrations even remotely possible. The fifth NFV ISG meeting brought a wave of Proof of Concept proposals and acceptances; synergies between multiple vendors and a minimum of one Service Provider partner to make the proposal tangible with a splash of real-world implementation feasibility.

That’s not to be over-the-top in my apparently evangelical view; there’s still lots of work to be done and many areas of NFV continue to have a question mark above its’ head. The specification process of NFV within ETSI is still due to run for at least another 10 months; and some of the challenges that have been outlined in the short term include the need for identifying a common management framework, appropriately securing virtual functions, the relationship between NFV & it’s seemingly conjoined twin, SDN; and finally orchestration challenges. But we’ll come on to that a little later.

2)     The future is open.Image

In hindsight, the spoiler may have been revealed in the event title, but Open-everything was top of the agenda at the Open Net Summit in Santa Clara. In the opening plenary session, a heavyweight panel featuring Facebook, the ONF, Canonical & the Linux Foundation; went through a plethora of reasons why Openness is vital to realising the full potential of carrier network infrastructure. OpenFlow, OpenStack, Open Compute Project, OpenDaylight Foundation; and anything else Open Source will, to quote, “shape the future of computing & networking”.

Industry “softwarization” is apparently an unstoppable trend, purely because of the technology evolution and the costs reductions it will bring. This trend will likely see “competition” move from hardware to software; therefore lowering the threshold for new players to enter into the ICT & Telco arenas. There is a shift from the “Economy of Resources” to the “Economy of Information”; and new business models and forms of collaboration & competition will be required.

As a result this, network operators and service providers have an abundance of new business opportunities, when looking jointly at global markets, through exploitation of interoperable virtual platforms. Not only will the integration of Cloud/IT with Carrier Networks happen, but the distinction between the Carrier Network and what connects to it will likely disappear; providing users with “any service for a better life”.

3)     Orchestrating the virtual is a challenge

A number of the conversations I’ve been having (or been privy to) over the past few weeks have, in one way or another, ultimately steered towards the challenges that carriers are facing in terms of network orchestration in a virtual environment.

As SDN & NFV become more prevalent for carriers today, or at least a serious consideration amongst tier 1 operators; equipment vendors and telcos are looking to understand orchestration in this new & virtualised paradigm. Effective orchestration ties together physical infrastructure and virtual machines/functions in a heterogeneous network; defining policies and delivering a common language interface for multiple vendor devices & products.

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In an NFV context, the orchestration layer provides an abstraction layer between the physical infrastructure and carrier network applications. Such abstraction allows carriers to configure and programme the network more simply, without need to manually type in hundreds, if not thousands, of lines of code across multiple network devices. This simplification can be extended by solutions that can facilitate rapid services scale-out and on-demand provisioning of infrastructure to meet the demands and requirements of the business and its customers.

Despite SDN technology promising openness and vendor agnosticism, by its very definition and philosophy; network infrastructure supplied by many of the industry’s most prominent hardware & network vendors is still proprietary in its nature. Hypothetically this means that hardware from, say, Vendor-A, can only be coded and controlled by a proprietary Vendor-A orchestrator. In a multi-vendor environment where different network elements may be supplied by different providers; an orchestration platform that has the ability to unify multiple vendor offerings is of enormous significance in taking strides towards enabling the SDN & NFV vision.

So, back to the office after a few weeks of travel as the year’s first events “silly season” hit its’ peak. Time to get my head down for a while and get the programmes written for this year’s SDN & NFV World Series!

Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post which is more explicitly focussed on point 3) from above.

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