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Latest NFV Headache: Software Licensing

Carol Wilson
11/7/2016
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LONDON -- OSS in the Era of SDN& NFV -- Software license management and VNF onboarding are emerging as key challenges as network operators push ahead with virtualization in the hybrid network environment that exists today, a number of speakers said here last week.

BT 's chief network architect, Neil McRae, was the first to raise the issue, doing so as an almost off-handed complaint, accompanied by an eye roll, in a morning panel discussion on service orchestration. Noting that in the virtual world, vendors want to sell licenses the way they once sold hardware, he added plaintively, "Please stop doing that."

The topic would come up again repeatedly through the day, a clear indication that managing software licenses for the growing number of virtual network functions that operators want to deploy is a definite problem. Tracking license expirations and managing the whole process as virtualization starts to scale is become a headache in itself, McRae noted.

The BT exec later called licenses "these annoying things" that get in the way of an operator's agility and flexibility.

Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)'s Johanne Mayer, director of product marketing, tackled the topic head on later in the day as one element in the broader challenge of VNF onboarding. Network operators knew what they were buying when they acquired hardware, she noted, but with software the picture is much less clear.

"It seems like it would be simple but there are a lot of hard challenges," she noted. Even basic things are different for operators, such as knowing when to pay for software, what they are actually getting, whether or not their operating environment is ready, and more. Then more challenges await when it's time to make sure software is secure and ready to scale.


Want to know more about managing and orchestrating virtualized networks? Check out our orchestration section in the Light Reading NFV channel.


Mayer referenced work done by one TM Forum Catalyst project, sponsored by AT&T, China Mobile, Orange and Verizon, which worked to define a well enabled VNF package, that can function in a complex ecosystems and enable multiple partnerships as well as automation of the onboarding process.

Oracle is looking for more service providers to get involved in the process, noted VNF vendors "don't really know what you want," and that being able as an industry to define the basics of a well-enabled VNF package would allow a general marketplace of VNFs that would have wide benefits.

"We are finding operators have similar pain points but there is no one size fits all," Mayer commented.

In response to an audience question, Mayer admitted there is no obvious substitution for the software licensing process today but said she believes the industry can make that process better.

Netcracker Technology Corp. 's Sanjay Mewada also addressed the licensing issues in the context of license management and partner management -- two key enablers in the broader VNF marketplace he described. Service providers are definitely looking for help in both areas, he said. Network operators want to partner with applications partners who are network-centric or IT-centric but enabling that to happen in a straightforward way that can be automated is difficult right now.

Like Mayer, he sees the need for general industry agreements on some basis -- like the definition of a VNF. "Right now, it changes every day," Mewada said.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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ASX4000
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ASX4000,
User Rank: Light Beer
11/8/2016 | 8:34:24 AM
Re: Just a Thought.
For sure they'll need a Scrum master as well :)
vances
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vances,
User Rank: Lightning
11/7/2016 | 9:53:49 PM
Transactional vs Instance Licensing
Instance based licensing is actually a great improvement over the entrenched practice of licensing based on Transaction Per Second (TPS) metrics which is the norm with messaging applications (e.g. SMSC).  That is appliance thinking which has to change.  Instance based licensing is a much more realistic way to handle compensation for pure software applications.

  Transactional Licensing is a Legacy of Appliances

Also it should be understood that license agreements and license controls are independent issues.  I would advocate a control free license scheme for VNFs as I wouldn't expect a great deal of non-compliance from CSPs.
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2016 | 5:01:51 PM
Re: Just a Thought.
Carol,

If the issue is the dynamic setup and tear down of NFV functions, then about the only answer is to go where AWS has.  Make the windows for licenses smaller.  Have a license server count number of intervals that are used and bill that way.  Let's call it 1 hour.  So each hour an instance is turned up (whether that is for 5 minutes or the full hour) the hourly billing rate is billed for.  That way the bill matches the use.

seven

 
clarkede
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clarkede,
User Rank: Lightning
11/7/2016 | 4:25:48 PM
ETSI NFV has started addressing NFV License Management
As pointed out in Light Reading a couple of weeks ago (quoting comments I made at the Broadband World Forum in London), ETSI NFV has started a specification work item on this with support from BT, Verizon, CableLabs and others. We are setting an aggressive timescale for getting consensus on 'Requirements', that is what mechanisms need to be supported by NFV MANO in order to be able to implement any commercial license management framework at the OSS/BSS level. We'll be working with TMF and others to ensure industry alignment. The next step will be to actually specify the MANO mechanisms with a target completion date of mid-2017. Don Clarke - ETSI NFV Network Operator Council Chair.
Carol Wilson
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Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
11/7/2016 | 3:41:31 PM
Re: Just a Thought.
I asked multiple people at this event if there was another model other than the licensing one that Neil McRae disparaged, and most folks agreed there needs to be some kind of change, but they aren't sure what it's going to be. 

I'm going to be digging deeper into this to get more answers from vendors and operators alike. 

 
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2016 | 2:30:45 PM
Re: Just a Thought.
Yeah Lawyers are big on agreements that change over time in ways managed by the participants :)

seven

 
Virtual_Robert
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Virtual_Robert,
User Rank: Moderator
11/7/2016 | 1:14:45 PM
Just a Thought.
Maybe we should get Procurement, Finance, Legal reps on both sides involved in a DevOps style to design a commercial engagement model in an agile way.

 
danielcawrey
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danielcawrey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2016 | 12:20:25 PM
Re: The obvious
It sure makes you think about how NFV is going to lower costs when there are so many licensing implciations to think about. 

Even so, I remain optimistic. NFV is going to be a big part of networking going forward, so vendors will have no choice but to figure this out. 
brooks7
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brooks7,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2016 | 12:13:36 PM
Re: NFV business model challenge
 

Kevin,

I think the challenge is that people are trying to think about building things the way they always have and not look to IT for many of the answers.

Let me take your troubleshooting example.  I think it is important that the applications become self-monitoring.  It is essentially impossible for 3rd party gear to do much other than provide platforms for application work.  When I was working as a SaaS vendor our applications would register themselves with our NOC when they started and deregister when they were stopped.  The NOC pinged the elements for sanity, but beyond that all the performance monitoring and problem reporting was done locally and escalated to the NOC.  The troubleshooting has to be part of the application or it won't exist when a new one is spawned.  All of this has to be part of the turnup/turndown automation without human intervention.  And yes, even with all of that it can still be painful.

seven
Kevin Mitchell
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Kevin Mitchell,
User Rank: Light Sabre
11/7/2016 | 11:33:27 AM
NFV business model challenge
Traditional infrastructure vendors have revenue to protect. How motivated can they be to be disruptive and transformative when it comes to cost? Marginal cost reductions are quite possible when it comes to CAPEX, but will they provide break-through economics? We doubt it.

Beyond the operational (and procurement) complexity of managing X number of vendors' licenses (and I suspect it's more vendors than they have for today's version of that network), the other challenges include:
  • Business model is same-old same-old and not transformative: CAPEX + fixed OPEX for a speculative build (Read more http://www.alianza.com/call-to-the-cloud/nfv-is-necessary-but-not-sufficient)
  • Support/troubleshooting is a nightmare (see The New IP Agency article http://www.newipagency.com/author.asp?section_id=323&doc_id=713548)

 
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