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NFV: Driving Toward Openness

Elizabeth Miller Coyne

As service providers move toward virtualized, New IP networks, the number of paths to take and the infrastructure decisions they need to make can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when it comes to the "openness" the industry is longing for, said Andrew Coward, vice president of strategy at Brocade, during a keynote at NFV & Carrier SDN in Denver last week.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) has seen its customers mainly take two approaches when moving toward New IP networks -- build it themselves from the ground up or "press the easy button" and have it built for them, he said.

To meet the demand from both types of customers, the vendor has had to look at all its products in the market and figure out how to deconstruct them and separate all the pieces out, and then reassemble them to create almost exactly the same product, said Coward. "Why would we go to all that trouble? Because some customers say to us, 'We want the deconstructed version of your product,' and we also need to package it for our partners," he said. "The more we deconstruct our features and services, the more they can be integrated into everybody else's infrastructure."

Hardware Still Critical in NFV
Andrew Coward, vice president of strategy at Brocade, delivers his keynote at NFV & Carrier SDN.
Andrew Coward, vice president of strategy at Brocade, delivers his keynote at
NFV & Carrier SDN.

Indeed, deconstruction can enable the openness that's touted as being a big benefit of New IP networks. The term "openness" can mean many different things, but to Coward it means the ability to replace one device with another device without having to change the business logic that drives that service and system -- and it's essential in building out a New IP network. "The closest we've got to that right now is probably white box Ethernet switching using OpenFlow," he said. "A lot of people don't like OpenFlow but it has done a lot to unify the replace-ability and swap-ability of devices in the network."

When looking for case studies or use cases around openness, service providers should look no further than the cloud providers, he said. "Cloud providers have been doing automation for a very long time. They didn't say to us, 'What are you going to do with management?' or 'What are you going to do with orchestration?' They said give us your APIs and tell us how you use NETCONF and we'll manage to that."

One important consideration during the deconstruction process is that suppliers should focus on building one implementation of a service or feature and sharing it across all the different applications and services rather than building different implementations over and over, he said. "I've been at Brocade three years and I was shocked to find out that we developed BGP four to five times over the life of the company -- and I'm sure everyone else in the networking world has done similar things with different products at different points in time," he said.

However, for all the talk about software at NFV & Carrier SDN, one thing remains critical in New IP networks and believe it or not, it's hardware, according to Coward. "We talk about hardware today as if it doesn't really exist or it's not important, but it's absolutely critical to how software and hardware work together," he said. "When we put software on a virtual CPE device or in the cloud, the difference between deploying a million servers in the cloud or half a million servers in the cloud will come down to software performance and how it interacts with that piece of hardware and how it gets the most out of that server or white box."

— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Managing Editor, Light Reading

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