Why VMware Thinks It Can Help the NFV Cause

Shekar Ayyar, executive vice president of strategy for VMware's Telco Group, is leading the company's charge into carrier networks.

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

September 6, 2017

6 Min Read
Why VMware Thinks It Can Help the NFV Cause

Having virtualized enterprise networks, VMware sees NFV as a chance to crack into carrier networks. Shekar Ayyar's job is to make sure the company is poised to give it a go.

This push began a couple of years ago, as VMware had nearly saturated its vSphere customer base and sought new markets. That's why last week's VMworld put so much focus on re-emphasizing the company's public-cloud ambitions. (See Following Amazon Partnership, VMware Is a Cloud Company Now.)

But the service provider world is new to VMware. As executive vice president of strategy for VMware's Telco Group, Ayyar's job is to get both sides accustomed to one another.

His Telco NFV team includes CTO Constantine Polychronopoulos, whose Bytemobile startup was acquired by Citrix in 2012. Honore' LaBourdette, VP of global market development, helps spread the team's message internally, and Gabriele Di Piazza, vice president of solutions, points VMware's product development teams toward features that would be useful to service providers. (See VMware's NFVi Push Embraces OPEN-O and VMware Makes Major MWC Splash.)

We chatted with Ayyar briefly at VMworld last week and got his perspective on VMware's place in the carrier universe.

Light Reading: You've told me VMware can play a strong role in ONAP. What did you mean by that?

Shekar Ayyar: You've got two large carriers, between AT&T and China Mobile. [Their efforts in ECOMP and Open-O led to the creation of ONAP.] While these guys can probably debate over the next 15 years, everybody else wants to get moving. They want to put something in production.

What we are intending to do is play a bridge role between them. We don't expect to be the catalyst that brings uniformity to AT&T's aspirations or China Mobile's. But we do expect to be a seat at the table in terms of how that dialogue evolves -- for example, by chairing some of the subcommittees and technical groups, particularly on orchestration and VIM and so on.

We can bring our knowledge of how to make these things operational for the rest of the world. AT&T probably has tens of thousands of developers, so if they want to build everything themselves, of course they can. We can bring in the knowledge of how these things might operate in the environment outside of AT&T and China Mobile and help the other carriers. (See MANO Marriage: ECOMP, OPEN-O Converge as ONAP.)

LR: Business-wise, how much does NFV mean to VMware?

Ayyar: We aren't publishing numbers on NFV revenue. But we are publishing numbers in terms of deployments. We've got 90 deployments now spread across roughly 45 carriers. We just announced the largest-ever telco deal that we have done to date, with Vodafone, and it was for NFV. These numbers are not insignificant. (See VMware's Hybrid Cloud Plans Pay Off.)

I see this as an opportunity, at least a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for VMware as well as our peers, in just a pure-play NFV infrastructure sense. You add the VNFs on top and the hardware underneath, and that leads you to a $10 billion type of number.

So, I'd say there is definitely the potential for a multi-hundred-million dollar opportunity in the near future.

LR: OK, I get that, but you're coming from the enterprise side. That's why I'm wondering how meaningful NFV really is to VMware.

Ayyar: Enterprise, unquestionably, is our bread and butter. If you look at the service provider markets, there are two segments that become very interesting for VMware.

One is the cloud provider movement. The other one is the telco network, where I would say that while we've got a business that is growing at a phenomenal pace today -- it's starting from a small base -- with the imminent arrival of 5G, we don't see a path to 5G without virtualization. Some carriers would have already been virtualized when they adopt 5G, others will find out that they need virtualization when they get to 5G. We think the potential is immense.

LR: How well do carriers understand the cloud?

Ayyar: I would say that there are two types of carriers. One type of carrier has tried to mimic Amazon [Web Services] in building an infrastructure type of cloud, but no one has succeeded, clearly, to the extent of an Amazon or a Microsoft. They're all modest in their cloud aspirations, but they know how to build a cloud.

Then you have a bunch of carriers who have decided not to do that or have decided to exit that business. Large guys like AT&T and Verizon have exited their pure-play IaaS clouds. (See Verizon Pulls Plug on Public Cloud.)

So, I would say while all these guys have some knowledge of how a data center cloud works, they are more interested in the new cloud environment, potentially using NFV-like principles in terms of virtualizing their networks. That helps them be a much more distributed cloud provider in an environment where network is coupled with distributed micro-data centers that are located in many points of presence that can then become the foundation of application delivery -- IoT applications or machine learning, for example.

There is a lot more potential for them to be this new class of cloud provider as opposed to just mimicking an existing data-center-type cloud infrastructure. That game is too far gone.

What they are excited about with VMware's participation of how we are working with Amazon. They are looking at building their telco cloud environments, they want to work with a provider that can also connect them to the economy around a public cloud as it exists today, without having to build one.

LR: Do you think the carriers will end up competing directly with public cloud providers?

Ayyar: I don't think so. I think that their motivations for wanting to be a "cloud" will be quite distinctly different. Now, if you fast-forward 20 years, will an Amazon buy up an AT&T? -- who knows. But outside of those types of possibilities, the Amazon/Google view of the cloud is quite different from the AT&T/Verizon view of the cloud, and they will all stick to things that are their core knitting.

Google seems to be steering toward more AI types of applications on their cloud. I think an operator like AT&T or Verizon will focus on their network capabilities and strengths in order to bring those as functionality and, we think, as VNFs, into the cloud world. They're not going to go head-to-head. They'll find ways to kind of leverage each other.

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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