NFV's Looming Battle: Systems Integration

A new battleground is emerging in the service provider virtualization market -- the race to win NFV systems integration deals.

The company that has fired the first major salvo is HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ) (HP), which has been chosen as the systems integrator (SI) for Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF)'s Unica service provider virtualization strategy.

What's important for the rest of the industry -- operators, vendors and SIs alike -- is why Telefónica decided that it needed a single external company to perform that role.

A year ago, Telefónica CTO Enrique Blanco unveiled the operator's SDN and NFV strategy, fully expecting to see the first introduction of virtual network functions before the end of 2014. (See Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)

But that didn't happen, because despite the clear and repeated requests from Blanco and his team for open, multivendor propositions from the vendor community, the Spanish giant received a welter of vendor-specific "we can do it all" propositions.

Blanco was so displeased, he shaved his beard off. (OK, so that's dramatic license on my part, but Blanco wasn't happy with the vendor feedback and the face hedge he sported a year ago is no more, so I'm putting two and two together to make five.)

The inability of the market to properly respond to Telefónica's needs led to a tweak in strategy and the need for a leading SI to help bring all the multivendor pieces together.

Why did HP get the nod? Well, it has been working with Telefónica for a while, it has knowledge of service provider IT as well as enterprise IT, it has expertise in virtualization and it has developed a program, OpenNFV, that incorporates a number of different elements (NFV Director, servers, storage, OSS tools) that can be used to manage a multivendor and constantly changing hybrid networking environment. (See HP's NFV Director Merges Physical, Virtual.)

Blanco insists that HP's role is not just to bring as much HP technology -- orchestration software, virtual network functions, IT platforms, and so on -- into the Unica project as it can: Its role is to be the enabler of an open, multivendor environment that will enable Telefónica to swap out and introduce functions and elements as needed without having to reconfigure its network.

That's a big task and the pressure is on HP -- Blanco and his team will demand that HP acts as an impartial SI and the rest of the industry will be watching to see if HP can pull this off. If it can, then others will want it to perform that same SI role for them -- to be the ultimate trusted NFV migration partner.

And that, as much as (if not more than) any hardware or software that can be sold, is where the big business will be in the service provider virtualization sector in the years to come.

For more NFV-related coverage and insights, check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

Meanwhile, there is a growing group of companies that will be telling the world they can do this too and do it better than HP and of course that will include the major network equipment providers that have professional services and service provider IT capabilities, namely Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson and Huawei.

Here's a list of companies (in alphabetical order and not including those NEPs) I expect to hear shouting about their NFV SI capabilities during 2015:

There will be others too, of course -- if you can think of any more please suggest them using the message boards below.

What will be key to these companies being able to offer a credible NFV systems integration proposition to telcos is SI experience, telco experience, scalable professional services resources and an open, vendor-independent orchestration/management system with relevant IT system capabilities.

Let battle commence.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
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Kevin Mitchell 3/23/2015 | 5:46:17 PM
System Disintegration This is gonna be a gnarly problem. For voice, NFV disaggregates and decomposes on top of what VoIP and IMS have already done. First is the integration into a working system. Then it's the upkeep and troubleshooting. More touch points = more break points.

A SI gives service providers like Telefonica a single throat to choke. But that SI is going to have its hands around many vendors' throats!

I touched on this in The New IP in Virtual Machines, Real Complexity 
Alexis Debreu 3/18/2015 | 4:08:50 AM
Atos a NFV integrator NFV introduce a lot of technical and organizational changes including network, OSS, BSS. People have to change their way of thinking and start to work with new players. New skills must be acquired by all actors.

A System integrator with IT and network expertise secure the transition to the NFV.

Another aspect of NFV is the interoperability between solutions. Playing with actors having wide foot print (NFVi, VNF, MANO) is a risk to recreate silo.

Atos start "cloudification" of Telco core network and VaS end of 2000's.  Live deployment experience for tier1 allows to propose a pragmatic evolution to NFV.
kmoran-affirmed 3/17/2015 | 7:07:01 AM
Please add my company to your list Contrary to what many may think, NFV is no longer just a lab experiment.  My company, Affirmed Networks was founded on NFV.  We count AT&T, Vodafone, NTT-West, LGU+, and many others, as customers who have embraced our virtualization platform.
Gabriel Brown 3/16/2015 | 6:39:27 AM
Re: Success Factors Ray's point about multivendor interoperability is critical. It is perhaps the decisive factor in choosing an NFV platform and integrator.

"convincing Tier 1 operators of multivendor neutrality -- independent SIs will have a stronger pitch there."
[email protected] 3/16/2015 | 1:53:20 AM
Re: Add my company to the list Doug

Of course there are specialist integrators, such as your company, and in this field your name as a specialist does stand out!

Are you going to compete with the big guys? I feel you might be pitching for different roles than a Tech Mahindra or Accenture -- maybe they will need your services? 
[email protected] 3/16/2015 | 1:49:04 AM
Re: Success Factors Yes, all of the major equipment vendors that have large professional services teams/resources will be gunning for this business for sure, with Ericsson probably having the advantage over the others as it already runs networks through its manged services deals, has a large prof services workforce and significant OSS capabilities, as well as being heavily involved in open source developments such as OpenDaylight.

Ericsson, though, like the other vendors, will have a harder time convincing Tier 1 operators of its multivendor neutrality -- independent SIs will have a stronger pitch there. 

marschke 3/15/2015 | 8:05:04 PM
Add my company to the list We have been working on our SDN/NFV services for over a year...are we going to have t comepete with the big guys?  Guess so!




DHagar 3/13/2015 | 8:13:40 PM
Re: Success Factors Steve Saunders, I am with you on Cisco - I can see them entering this race.

This is a smart move with a new model for HP.

Maybe he will grow his beard back now, Ray?  It will definitely provide a more solid platform and advance the market, in my opinion.
DimensionData 3/13/2015 | 3:51:00 PM
Re: Success Factors What we´ve seen by looking into some leading solutions in the market: there´s still a huge know how gap in terms of how to operate the new nfv software eco-systems (services) incl. the open plattforms in an end2end way and providing carrier class sla's for the whole stack. That will be key for large scale market adoption.
Steve Saunders 3/13/2015 | 8:35:08 AM
Re: Success Factors Cisco will enter this space, i think. Agree, Ray? 
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