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Network functions virtualization provides short-term value, but its tie to hardware means SDN will become more important over time, says a top SDN guy.

NFV 'Irrelevant' in Long Term, ONF Reckons

Mitch Wagner
6/18/2014
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CHICAGO -- Light Reading's Big Telecom Event -- Though network functions virtualization is "critically important" in the near future, it will become "kind of irrelevant" in the long term, because it's hardware focused, said Dan Pitt, executive director of the Open Networking Foundation.

"I will tell you frankly that I think [NFV] is a great short-term benefit but of diminishing long-term benefit, because really what it does is virtualize hardware-defined networking," Pitt said at a keynote here. NFV lacks focus on OSS and other network operations separate from hardware and the functions driving it.

"In the long-term future, NFV will become kind of irrelevant, because it will all just become programming modules," he said. "But in the short term, it's critically important and of great benefit, so we are working closely with the ETSI NFV working group." The two organizations signed a memo of understanding to collaborate this year. (See ETSI & ONF Hold Hands Over SDN & NFV.)

"We're really happy to partner with them," Pitt said, as though he were aware that his statements would make things awkward at the next joint ONF/ETSI volleyball game.

ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt
ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt describes actual SDN deployments.
ONF Executive Director Dan Pitt describes actual SDN deployments.

SDN is leading the transition making software strategic to service providers' business value, Pitt said.

"Software will define your future," he told carriers. "The operators that will most succeed will be the ones that learn to own software and its processes. They'll learn to create it as well as procure it. They will understand that telecom is becoming IT."

Carriers' competitors aren't other slow-moving telcos, but companies like Facebook , Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG). "I would mock these at my peril if I were a network operator."

Some carriers are already moving toward software-defined networks. OpenFlow SDN deployments in place today include:

  • A pan-Pacific network-as-a-service implementation in east Asia, provided by an undersea cable and data center company
  • A north Asia global carrier providing cloud services with customer self-provisioning for global enterprises
  • A south Asia-Pacific Internet exchange that's overlaying new technologies on old networks for BGP augmentation, available with quality-of-service controls and application prioritization
  • A studio caching and distributing entertainment video over WANs in North America

The ONF's membership and innovation are growing fastest in Asia than in North America or Europe. This derives not just from telecom providers, but also from rapidly growing Internet services such as Alibaba and Tencent, Pitt said.

The ONF launched in 2011. "Our mission is to accelerate the option of open SDN. So we do standards, but they're just a means to an end. Our success measure is the commercial success of SDN for the benefit of network operators." The organization is a not-for-profit that runs like a Silicon Valley startup. It has five employees -- two full-time and three part-time.

Board members include Google, Facebook, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, Microsoft, and Goldman Sachs -- data center operators, network operators, and a large enterprise, he said.

It doesn't have a single definition of SDN, and it supports many interpretations. "Essential to it is the physical separate of forwarding and control, otherwise you can't really centralize the control you have applied to your network and have a consistent program interface to it." Simplifying interfaces provides an application independent infrastructure. "Ultimately, the value of the networks is created by network operators through software they own, procure, and control."

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to wagner@lightreading.com.


Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which continues today 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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sam masud
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sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/19/2014 | 1:51:34 PM
Re: Mixed message?
I too was confused, and what Dan says sounds futuristic; still I can see it happening with the industry embracing the open source mantra. Thanks for having Dan clarify things.
Ryan Welch
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Ryan Welch,
User Rank: Lightning
6/18/2014 | 4:29:27 PM
Re: Mixed message?
Dan,

Thanks for the clarification; that makes a lot more sense. 
DanPitt
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DanPitt,
User Rank: Light Beer
6/18/2014 | 3:43:45 PM
Re: Mixed message?
Ryan,

Thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps my choice of words created a misleading interpretation. In truth, NFV is a stepping stone toward a fully virtualized – or, better yet, abstracted –network. In order for carriers to make the transition to fully virtualized networks, SDN is required, both underneath and (according to Telefónica) above NFV. NFV is one of the best ways in the short term for carriers to evolve their networks toward being software-defined, but it is not a stand-alone solution nor will it be explicitly necessary in the long run. In the long run, carriers will cease the virtualization of out-of-date network artifacts and build virtualized networks from the ground up, with software modules that relate to user requirements, not what were once network appliances. ONF is helping the operator community for both the short term and the long term. I brought up the long-term notion to get the operators thinking about the end game rather than thinking only incrementally.

Dan Pitt
Ryan Welch
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Ryan Welch,
User Rank: Lightning
6/18/2014 | 10:51:37 AM
Mixed message?
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the point (and if I am, please set me straight)... Is he saying the NFV won't matter in the long-term because everything will be virtualized anyway? And that this will come about as a result of SDN? If that's the case, "inevitible" is probably a better word than "irrelevant".
Atlantis-dude
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Atlantis-dude,
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/18/2014 | 10:24:15 AM
Great software
Are there any examples of these that operators have created?
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