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NFV Group Preps Its Afterlife

Ray Le Maistre

The leadership team at the ETSI network functions virtualization (NFV) Industry Specifications Group (ISG) has decided that its original, self-imposed two-year timeline is too short and is now considering the best way to extend its life beyond 2014.

The core of the carrier-driven group first met formally in October 2012 in Germany, and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) group was born at the beginning of 2013 with a goal to complete its work (specifying NFV and identifying the business case) and disband by the end of 2014.

But NFV has become just about the hottest trend in the industry and the group's leadership team has realized that, one way or another, more needs to be done.

"A lot has been achieved in terms of work done and influence demonstrated," said Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ)'s Prodip Sen, chair of the ETSI ISG, in an email to the group's near 200 members prior to a meeting in Malaga, Spain, last week. "It is clear to all that the vision we laid out is where the networking industry is collectively headed, though some may quibble about timelines and specifics... But given all the ongoing work, it is clear that our original goal -- of completing the work and disbanding in two years -- was a bit simplistic. The very strong industry attention which the NFV ISG has received, the large number of involved participants/players, and of course the identification of a lot of work that needs to be done, demands some form of continuation," he added.

So the leadership team has drafted a paper, titled "Proposal for NFV Phase 2," on a possible next step. Sen, though, made it clear that this was a starting point for discussion, and certainly not any kind of imposed decision. The aim is to discuss the future at the next meeting, to be held in Okinawa during May, and figure out what will happen come 2015.

The move makes sense: Despite a slow start, a great deal has been achieved during the past year and, as an excellent blog published by Ciena's Marc Cohn following the Malaga meeting shows, there are nine proof-of-concept projects underway and more use cases still to be tackled. (See Cohn's blog here.)

As many have noted, the ISG has made faster progress than some other telecom industry groups because it has been driven by the needs of network operators, which have pushed the vendor community to deliver to their specific requirements needs.

That doesn't mean that some don't want it to go faster. Dor Skuler, general manager of the CloudBand Business Unit at Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), knows where he'd like the focus of NFV Phase 2.0 to be.

"We need to find a way to allow us to make decisions faster -- decisions that are not necessarily consensus-based," noted Skuler, who added that ETSI's rules require consensus decisions. "There is no consensus on some topics, but everyone involved is very passionate about making NFV happen and willing to collaborate to make NFV happen. And we need to stop worrying about standards but instead point towards open specifications such as TOSCA [Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications]" to take things forward, added the AlcaLu man.

Skuler is not alone. Ciena's Cohn quotes AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s Margaret Chiosi in his blog as saying: "NFV must overhaul the traditional standards adoption process, which typically requires years before implementations are available. We are seeking a Fast Fail Forward model that enables standards and their implementations to be iteratively developed, similar to the highly-successful open source software model."

Clearly, whatever the group decides to do will be critical to the ongoing development of the NFV ecosystem and industry watchers will be keen to see if Phase 2.0 remains carrier-led.

For more on NFV:

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 10:36:59 PM
Re: Many groups...
That is really good news Carol and I agree there is no reason to stop something based on an overly optimistic timeline.  I think that we still need the outcomes of standards, but the processes do need to evolve out of the dark ages. 

Time is always money, end users expect revolution not evolution, and telecom has to move forward expeditiously.  Having said that, we still need to communicate worldwide so standards are still required. Maybe this group will be THE one to set the tone and speed for future groups.
Carol Wilson
Carol Wilson,
User Rank: Blogger
2/26/2014 | 10:16:53 PM
Re: Many groups...
If you look at this group's recent Malaga event, which Ray references, it was packed and they had to turn people away. There is now widespread recognition of NFV as a transformational technology and I'm saying that with a straight face. 

I don't think the standards process for this stuff will ever look like a typical standards process but cutting the development process off after two years doesn't seem like a logical thing to do. 
Liz Greenberg
Liz Greenberg,
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 9:15:47 PM
Re: Many groups...
Well said, @DOShea.  Consensus and implementation both take time, add to that testing and verification and it becomes obvious why 2 years is too short.  I think that since the members are passionate about making this happen, they will find a way to both extend the time and avoid the bloat.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
2/26/2014 | 5:52:20 PM
Extending lifespan
I hear regular infusions of monkey blood works well for that. 
User Rank: Blogger
2/26/2014 | 5:06:31 PM
Many groups...
If they're further ahead of teh game than some other industry groups, they should keep going, but aren't there a lot of groups staking out the same ground here? Seems like someone shoudl drop back or feed their work into the ETSI effort.
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 3:38:35 PM
Re: '4 more years!'
The stanrdards adoption component of this is huge. Obviously providers are going to have to come to a consensus that everyone agrees can work.

The problem I see is that we're still at a testing phase. Everything in this segment is still new. But it will be interesting to watch. 
User Rank: Light Sabre
2/26/2014 | 1:17:46 PM
'4 more years!'
> (To quote a popular political chant, in the US)

Nice article. I don't think anyone wanted the NFV ISG to become another bloated standards body - especially as they are a specifications group! But the fact is that in order to achieve one of their primary stated goals of liaising with appropriate standards bodies, they need more than 2 years, if only because they are beholden to the speed that those organizations can and do work at. Consider the IETF liaisons: SFC went from BoF to WG status in near record time, achieving accolades from area chairs for the amount of contributions in a short period of time. They are having their first WG meeting next week at IETF89 / London.

The second BoF (Virtualized Network Function Pools) are only now gathering for the first time at that same meeting. Both have a high degree of carrier participation - which is rare in the IETF, these days, as they feel it's not been commercial enough, for some time.

Anyway, this stuff just takes time. Now, if we are still having this conversation in 10 years, that's a different problem. Or maybe its just the same age-old problem!
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