Openness is the key to NFV

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third-party contributors to submit analysis on a key topic affecting the telco industry. In this article Timo Jokiaho, EMEA Senior Technologist Telecom & NFV at Red Hat argues that using open source is the key to successful NFV deployments technologies. 

Conventional communications infrastructures based on dedicated, proprietary network hardware can limit the ability for service providers to grow, due to increased costs, added complexity and reduced business agility.

Open source enables communications service providers (CSPs) to deploy infrastructure components and launch new apps to mobile users more dynamically and with fewer costs than on a proprietary network scale. Enabling CSPs with open source solutions has enabled them to maximize infrastructure agility, while relieving associated cost pressures, primarily through the natural procurement and operation expenditure savings associated with open source.

The agility of open source software enables CSPs to deploy applications in minutes or hours instead of weeks or months, avoiding costly long-term projects and physical infrastructure deployments across globally located datacentres. As the future of the mobile datacentre continues to evolve, CSPs can use open source technologies to build and scale a tailored datacentre designed for their specific requirements.

The technical challenges involved in delivering elastic, fully automated, scalable services are being addressed in a number of community projects. Three relevant examples include: OpenStack—a project designed to build a software-only cloud computing platform; OpenDaylight—a project designed to build software defined networking solutions; and OpenShift Origin—a project designed to provide a cloud-based development platform. The transparency of these underlying open-source projects provides very clear insight into capabilities, future direction, and freedom from any vendor lock-in.  They provide a way for a diverse group of companies and individuals to collaborate to address specific business problems.

While these up-stream communities and partnerships provide the ideal sandboxes for innovation, real value stems from taking these projects, selecting the most stable code, putting it through rigorous quality assurance and security testing and providing stable platforms on which CSPs looking to reduce the risk of their mission critical solutions can build upon with comfort.

OpenStack is still considered a relatively new technology in many industries but we are seeing significant traction with proofs of concept from the major global telecom providers. As feature and function rapidly improves around Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), the realisation of widespread usage opportunities, such as content delivery networks, dynamic mobile datacentres, and even virtualised set top boxes, offer the telecom industry a wide range of new business model opportunities.

While many companies are still in the early stages of proof of concept, NFV has seen a significant amount of growth in the past two years, primarily led by the telecom industry through community input, reference architecture, and regulations to help ease adoption confidence. In the highly competitive markets of today, CSPs need IT architectures that provide flexibility and agility and they demand the ability to innovate fast in order to take advantage of shifting market dynamics.

Infrastructure expansion can be fast, easy and inexpensive with commercial off the shelf hardware. Choosing an open source foundation, such as OpenStack, can help CSPs to choose the right complementary applications to meet their needs.

CSPs are actively engaged in developing the requirements for OpenStack to support applications (legacy and new) in this environment. CSPs need to ensure that the roadmap provides for an open technology rather than ‘forked’ or proprietary, in order to realise the proven on-going technological and economic benefits of open source.

Over time, traditional ‘appliance’ like infrastructure will be replaced with software applications that can be accessed in a utility based cloud model. Traditional network equipment providers are delivering more services and software solutions than before and many top-tier independent software vendors (ISVs) are positioning their technology to help realise the potential of NFV.

The spirit of collaboration and openness can be seen in the formation of the Linux Foundation Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) which lists leading CSPs and vendors from around the world among its membership base.

OPNFV pledges to work closely with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute NFV ISG as an industry-wide effort that includes network operators, network equipment providers, platform vendors and hardware vendors working together to create a reference platform for NFV. The goal is to take existing open source projects such as OpenStack, OpenDaylight, DPDK, libvirt and KVM, and identify any areas where these platforms can be improved to enable the deployment of network services.

Given existing efforts in ETSI and OpenStack, what gap does OPNFV fill? The creation of an NFV platform is a broader effort than just OpenStack – the high throughput and low latency requirements of certain network functions will need engineering work throughout the network stack, from enabling hardware acceleration features such as SR-IOV and NUMA in the kernel or in the hypervisor, to enabling the guest kernel to hand off packet processing to user-space, and everything in between.

OPNFV will look at the problem holistically, and for each project included in the reference platform, argue for the importance of the NFV use-case and submit bug requests and patches to address technology gaps. The result will be a platform that everyone can build on and contribute to and that enables standard interfaces for the definition, deployment and management of virtual network functions on an NFV platform.

The OPNFV project has the potential to change the communications industry.  The benefits that enterprise computing enjoyed as a result of virtualization in the data centre are coming to mobile networks. It is more a matter of when rather than if, and open source initiatives such as OpenStack and OpenDaylight in combination with collaborative organizations such as the OPNFV will ensure that when it does arrive, the benefits will be enjoyed by all.

Timo Jokiaho, Red HatTimo Jokiaho is Senior Technologist, Telecom & Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) at Red Hat.  He works with service providers, network equipment providers, system integrators and ISVs to progress the NFV agenda in the industry and at Red Hat. Previously Jokiaho led the software technology planning function within Huawei Technologies, focusing on Base Platform domain (operating systems, virtualization, high availability functionality and O&M), and also the planning for terminal software platforms, including Android. He has also worked at Samsung on device software R&D and on strategy, technology & architecture within network element platform development at Nokia Siemens Networks.

  • Cable Next-Gen Digital Symposium

  • Network Virtualization & SDN Americas

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.