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Dell Builds Its Service Provider NFV Case

Dan O'Shea

Dell continues to chip away at the data center market status quo, this week having announced a new dynamically scalable data center switch and a fabric controller that uses SDN principles to enable NFV support for service providers and other data center operators.

The Dell Networking Z9500 switch and Active Fabric Controller also play as further evidence of efforts Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) has been making in recent months to grab a larger chunk of the data center market and extend itself into the service provider sector by embracing open networking and a practical approach to supporting NFV. (See Dell Unveils Data Center Switch, Active Fabric Controller, Dell Has Big NFV Plans, and Dell Opens Arms to Cumulus OS.)

The Z9500 is significant in that it employs a pay-as-you-grow model, allowing customers to activate more ports as their data center needs increase, rather than having to buy more backplanes and line cards. "You can initiate 36 ports, 86 ports or 132 ports, so that gives you the flexibility of building out small, medium or large data center designs. You can build to micro scale, macro scale and hyper scale," says Arpit Joshipura, vice president of product management at Dell.

That flexibility, along with a total 10Tbit/s capacity across the switch, low-latency performance and low power consumption, make the switch ideal for burgeoning SDN and NFV environments, Joshipura argues.

Meanwhile, the new Active Fabric Controller supports OpenStack for the integration of physical data center infrastructure, and uses OpenFlow to interface with data center switches. "Today cloud operators are looking at three stacks -- the VMware stack, the Microsoft stack and OpenStack," Joshipura says. "While OpenStack has plug-ins, the infrastructure still has to be stitched together." The new Dell controller allows the entire data center infrastructure to be managed and orchestrated, with policy control and visibility, on a "zero touch" basis, he adds.

The ability to dynamically stitch together physical data center infrastructure also further positions Dell to support NFV use cases in which dynamic scalability is needed to meet multi-tenancy requirements. "The Active Fabric Controller automates OpenStack on the enterprise side and on the carrier NFV side," Joshipura says. "We think the same building blocks can be used on both sides. You see a lot of write-ups these days suggesting that if it's enterprise, then its SDN, if it's carrier, then it's NFV. The enterprise just happens to be mature enough from an SDN perspective that we can extend it and expand what we're doing there to support NFV."

These notions are not lost on the service provider market, according to Heavy Reading senior analyst Caroline Chappell. "Our research shows that advanced operators realize that the development and implementation of SDN and NFV have to progress hand in hand," she says. "SDN is about setting up and tearing down flows through the network. Those flows are going to involve network functions and at the same time need to support virtual network functions (VNFs), providing connectivity between the virtual machines that constitute the VNFs."

Chappell says that in general the integration of SDN and NFV is going to be a hot topic in coming months and that the roles of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV ISG and the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) look set to become more closely aligned. (Update: This article initially noted that a proposal to merge the ETSI NFV ISG and the ONF had been made, but suggestions of any such merger have not been made by either the ETSI group or the ONF, and are not being considered by either. The two organizations, though, have forged a partnership -- see ETSI & ONF Hold Hands Over SDN & NFV.)

However, Chappell's fellow Heavy Reading senior analyst Roz Roseboro notes that while SDN and NFV may take an integrated path forward, "neither is dependent on the other being in place."

Rest assured, Dell isn't the only vendor that sees this happening. Having infrastructure components that support NFV may better position Dell to win service provider business, but it won't come easy. Roseboro says, "I listened to a presentation from Telefónica, where it talked about hardware and software requirements for NFV. One of the issues raised was that the data plane workload needs high and predictable performance -- something that isn't as critical when dealing with server workloads. This impacts how things need to be architected when virtualizing the networking domain. My feeling is that the traditional WAN suppliers may be more credible than the enterprise guys in terms of understanding some of these sorts of nuances." (See Telefónica Looks to SDN for Network Flexibility, Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)

— Dan O'Shea, Managing Editor, Light Reading

Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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3/27/2014 | 8:27:18 PM
There are no plans to fold the ETSI NFV ISG into the ONF or any other body. Discussions are being progressed within the NFV ISG on what comes after the initial two-year phase which ends in January-February 2015. The NFV ISG leadership recommends an extrapolation of the NFV ISG the outline of which was introduced to the NFV ISG plenary meeting in Malaga last month. This basic proposal has a broad base of support amongst network operators and the NFV ISG will be asked to decide how to move forward at the next meeting in Okinawa in mid-May. Don Clarke, Chair, Network Operator Council (ETSI NFV ISG).
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