NICE, France -- TM Forum Live! 2016 -- NEC and its telecom software and support services subsidiary NetCracker laid assault to the senses here in Nice with an announcement that appears to tick every buzzword box in the New IP lexicon, from "agile methodologies" to MANO, microservices and SDN -- and then add to the virtualization sector's acronym soup with a few fresh terms (such as PSIP, or Primary Systems Integration Practice).
The Agile Virtualization Platform and Practice (AVP) is a collection of technology products and supporting services "designed to accelerate and ease the adoption and commercialization" of SDN and NFV. At its heart are four components:
- Virtualization Development and Operations Center (VDOC): A software tool designed for collaborative efforts related to systems architecture, network planning, service design and deployment, and automated service lifecycle management.
- Business Enablement Applications (BEA): Microservices-based application components that can be deployed in public, private or hybrid cloud environments and which are designed to reduce the time it takes to monetize virtualization offerings for both enterprise and consumer markets.
- Hybrid Operations Management (HOM): An operations tool "focused on making virtual and traditional networks operate simultaneously at scale." This is where NetCracker's MANO developments come into play. HOM "integrates with VDOC to create a dynamic and continuous feedback loop between product and development environments."
- Primary Systems Integration Practice: Professional services designed to help telco executives design and implement their virtualization initiatives, "from the initial definition of the program and its business case to the full transfer of operations."
See NEC, Netcracker Unveil AVP for SDN/NFV Adoption for further details on each of these.
Those four components certainly chime with what network operators are looking for, but, like virtualization itself, AVP appears complex and potentially baffling, so much so that Netcracker Technology Corp. hosted a flock of analysts for two days prior to the Nice event to explain the intricacies. So is there any substance behind the curtain of terminology?
It would appear so. Caroline Chappell, Practice Leader, Cloud and NFV, at Heavy Reading and among the most naturally skeptical of the telecom software analyst brigade, believes NetCracker has the right approach, introducing relevant concepts and methodologies from the IT world to the telecom world.
She notes that VDOC, which started life as an internal tool for Netcracker developers, is a "collaboration platform for agile and multi-functional development teams, applying DevOps concepts -- such as Epics and Scrum masters -- to telco service development, VNF onboarding and the automation of service and VNF lifecycle management processes." At its heart is a repository of reusable components or "artefacts" (such as a virtual network function, an API, a workflow script, and so on) that can be fused together.
In addition, Chappell says, "Netcracker has invested in populating VDOC with some NEC-derived automation assets around cloud management, adapted for telco cloud/NFV scenarios, and expects to collaborate with operator customers to build up an extensive library of assets which could eventually be open sourced -- a kind of Github for the network."
All in all, VDOC is the type of thing telcos need -- "it's quite good, actually" -- but Chappell wonders if traditional communications service providers are yet ready to embrace such approaches. "It's so far beyond the comfort zone of most telcos as to be bewildering," she notes.
Complementing VDOC is Hybrid Operations Management (HOM), a "typical service orchestration stack with the usual pieces of functionality that all orchestration vendors are talking about -- such as VNF management/MANO, assurance, active inventory, model-driven service orchestration -- built using a microservices design pattern… it takes service models built from VDOC artefacts and deploys and manages them at runtime," notes the analyst.
And then, importantly, there's the business of making money from virtualization. "BEA is all about augmenting existing BSS systems with the capabilities needed to monetize and support NFV-based services -- for example, self-service portal capabilities, real-time charging capabilities and so on -- so you don't have to rip and replace them."
Importantly, "these additional pieces of functionality have been built as microservices -- that means an operator could deploy new services faster, without wholesale BSS transformation. Integrations between BEA and BSS systems, whether NetCracker's or from a third party, are stored in VDOC as artefacts," notes Chappell.
All in all, then, it seems NetCracker is onto something, combining technology and methodologies that make sense for the next-generation network environments that operators need to embrace.
The big question, it seems, is whether those operators are ready for the (albeit highly relevant) complexity of the Agile Virtualization Platform and Practice.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading