GSMA to Bring Standardization to NFVi Wild West
James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst – Service Provider IT and Automation, Heavy Reading
In February we broke the story about a new initiative to harmonize NFV infrastructure. This has now formalized as a collaboration between the preeminent open source consortium and the foremost mobile operator trade body. The catchily named Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT) will be hosted by the GSMA and "created with input" from Linux Foundation Networking (LFN). CNTT will define common NFVi reference architectures which will be submitted to LFN for testing and verification via the OPNFV Verification Program (OVP). That's quite a mouthful of acronyms.
At the Open Networking Summit in San Jose this April, the CNTT revealed that ten operators were onboard, namely AT&T, Bell Canada, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Reliance Jio, Orange, SK Telecom, Telstra, Verizon and Vodafone. This presentation explained the operators' desire to have more control over the development of a standard for NFVi. This explains the involvement of the GSMA rather than letting CNTT be hosted by LF itself.
The target, as we reported in February, is to have three NFVi architectures for network-intensive applications, compute-intensive applications and nominal cases (i.e., everything else including general IT workloads). These will be defined by GSMA and published by OPNFV. Vendors will certify their VNFs against these target architectures through the OVP. Telcos will then only accept OPNFV-certified VNFs. The overall goals are to increase the speed of innovation, accelerate VNF operationalization and lower the cost of VNFs (presumably from both an operator and vendor perspective).
The problem that operators have faced to date is that they have all pursued slightly different NFVi implementations. This makes life difficult for the VNF vendor community as they need to test their software against each carrier's unique NFVi. If it proves incompatible it could require modifications just to serve the needs of one particular operator. This all leads to long VNF development and test cycles which is holding back the agility that NFV was meant to bring. Although the Linux Foundation's Open Platform for NFV has a mission to create "a reference NFV platform to accelerate the transformation of enterprise and service provider networks," different vendors have brought their own variants to the open source project and consequently, it has ended up with around 60 different NFVi configurations. With CNTT there will be three.
According to Rabi Abdel, Network Virtualization and SDN/NFV Lead Architect at Vodafone Group, "The CNTT will make OVP more efficient and effective." Abdel, who is also the vice chair of the LFN's Compliance & Verification Committee told Heavy Reading, "We need a mature standard for NFVi. Open source is great at making fast development, but with the GSMA we will be able to reach a more stable level of standardization and it will be influenced mainly by operators [not vendors]."
Given that NFV started life as an ETSI industry standards group it is surprising that the CNTT is being hosted by the GSMA and ETSI does not appear to be involved. Vodafone's Abdel notes, "We are leveraging a lot of the work done by ETSI but the main focus of the work for CNTT is to reach a clean level of abstraction between the NFVi and the VNFs that defines interfaces and APIs that are architecture agnostic and regardless of whether we are using VMs or containers."
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— James Crawshaw, Senior Analyst,Heavy Reading