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CableLabs's Virtualization Efforts Enter New Realities

Jeff Baumgartner
4/4/2019

CableLabs has refocused and retooled its network virtualization and software-defined networking efforts following the recent departures of two execs linked to those initiatives, industry sources said.

CableLabs had been working on an overall cable virtualization framework, but that virtualization group is now taking more direct aim at the industry's pursuit of a Flexible MAC Architecture (FMA) that's focused on virtualizing the access network. Vendors and operators have likewise been eyeing network virtualization in recent years for activities involving the emerging distributed access architecture (DAA), which will extend more functionality toward the edges of the HFC network to mine more capacity out of the network and cut down on the power and space requirements of legacy centralized architectures.

This latest approach will essentially tighten the ties between CableLabs's initiatives involving FMC and network virtualization.

That FMA-related work by the retooled virtualization group will look at elements such as the control plane and management plane, and stay clear of work that's more closely linked to the data plane. Industry sources said this will enable the group to put more emphasis on the nearer-term needs of CableLabs's MSO members. Mark Bridges, VP of software at CableLabs, is heading up the organization's virtualization group.

Word of this shift in focus follows the recent departures of two execs who had major roles at CableLabs with respect to NFV and SDN -- Tetsuya Nakamura, who has now joined Amazon Web Services but has not elaborated on his role there; and Don Clarke, an NFV expert late of BT, who is "enjoying a career break to recharge."

CableLabs confirmed that Clarke and Nakamura are no longer with the organization. "We wish them the best and we are grateful for their faithful service and contributions to the industry," an official said in an emailed statement. "This does not reflect any change in our work on SDN/NFV," the official added, but did confirm that virtualization efforts will now tie into the work being done with the emerging Flexible MAC Architecture.

Speaking at a Light Reading-hosted breakfast session on virtualization during SCTE/ISBE's Cable-Tec Expo last fall in Atlanta, Clarke acknowledged that NFV holds some key technology advantages but that operators still "need a business driver" if they are to push forth and invest in this area. He likewise held that the cable industry also has an opportunity to rein in some of the fragmentation that has riddled portions of the NFV sector and "put a stake in the ground" with reference architectures.

CableLabs has also been noodling on a virtualized cable modem termination system/converged cable access platform. But, given that such an effort would be more focused on product definitions rather than specifications and architectures, it's not clear if the group will be pursuing that any more.

This more focused commitment to virtualization does appear to represent a revised angle into an area that CableLabs has been working on since about 2014.

"This seems yet another sign that the cable industry is still not quite sure how to proceed on the broader network virtualization front yet," said Alan Breznick, Light Reading’s cable/video practice leader. "So instead the industry is doubling down on virtualizing the HFC access network, where it can produce quicker, more measurable gains. That makes sense."

Breznick said this shift in focus also makes sense because CableLabs' leading MSO members may well be pursuing their own virtualization frameworks, making it tough, if not impossible, for them all to agree on a common, industry-wide approach. "For instance," he noted, "Comcast may have very different ideas of the broader virtualization framework than, say, Cox or Charter or Liberty Global. So there may be no point in trying to hash out all those differences right now when they have more urgent items on their agendas."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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e2mbcorp
e2mbcorp
4/4/2019 | 8:52:13 AM
The MAC is layer 2
Why is it called FMA, but then there's a statement that the focus in going to be on the transport and control planes.  The MAC is layer 2, also referred to as the Data Link Layer, sitting on top of the Physical layer 1.  Sometimes the MAC has two sub-layers, and sometimes it has three sublayers. So is the lower MAC shifting on the fly or are they actually making changes to TCP/IP?  I'd warn against doing that and still calling it Internet.  Is this part of the full duplex play?  Because anything between exactly two points is also not Internet.  Have they finally achieved a universal MAC which can look like any type of switch, without needing to run Ethernet over DOCSIS?  Ultimiately, I'd think that CableLabs would just want an elegant solution for simultaneous synchronous and asynchronous traffic on a single channel. But it sounds like they're still running a network on top of a network if DOCSIS is still only synchronous.
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