NFV started "as a big promise that this technology would become a force multiplier," said Watson, VP of global technology for Masergy Communications Inc. , during his keynote Wednesday. "Virtualization would bring the same power that it brought the data center to the carriers to give us that agility, that web-scale and certainly web speed -- moving away from waterfall and to a DevOps model so that we could rapidly deploy services."
Masergy launched one of the earliest global deployments of NFV in 2015, and launched two SD-WAN products in the last 18 months, he added.
In examining the "good, the bad and the ugly" of NFV, Watson noted that advancement in this space has been plagued by interoperability issues, standards squabbling, performance bottlenecks and concerns over security.
Looking first at carrier-based NFV -- deploying network services like routing and firewalls on vCPE -- Watson explained that this approach eliminates complexity, reduces the carrier premises footprint and delivers significant cost savings to operators. There are downsides, however, in that it's not feasible for all network functions, and there are security concerns over whether DDoS mitigation can be performed reliably over VNFs.
Another approach to NFV is customer-premises-based where service providers could deploy white box, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) devices that are hypervisor capable. An additional benefit to COTS devices is that service providers can avoid hardware lock-in; however, vendor lock-in remains, said Watson. This approach requires a DevOps model of rapid VNF deployments as well.
"NFV itself is a category of solutions. It's not a displacement technology, it's not going to displace every single appliance that's out there. It's a category of solutions and will continue to push our hardware vendors to move at software speed because our hardware vendors are now software vendors and they will have to be able to move that quickly."
In the premises-based model, achieving interoperability in orchestration continues to be a primary concern, in addition to security concerns such as susceptibility to DDoS attacks, hypervisor exploits and SSL exploits, said Watson.
"The decision between carrier-based and prem-based is not a mutually exclusive decision," he said. "The vast majority of NFV deployments that I see globally have elements of all of the above -- they have elements of MPLS, elements of VPLS, both prem-based and carrier based."
A subset of both of these approaches to NFV is SD-WAN, which provides real-time dynamic path allocation, new market opportunities and addresses enterprises' movement of workflows to AWS and Google. Yet the SD-WAN market is still stabilizing, adds Watson, and industry concerns remain over security, vendor lock-in, and whether SD-WAN could cannibalize existing MPLS revenue.
"The market is still shaking out, just like the toddler that falls down every now and then … the focus needs to be and is solving the customers' problems, not just chasing the technology just because it sounds good when you talk to your board," Watson said. "It's figuring out what the customer actually wants to do and then using the tools in your arsenal to solve those problems. On a more optimistic note, NFV -- just like all toddlers -- will eventually grow up."
— Kelsey Kusterer Ziser, Senior Editor, Light Reading