One sure sign of maturing technology is that users talk less about blue-sky promises, and more about implementation challenges and how to solve them.
In other words, when people stop burbling excitedly and start sharing tips, you know that real transformation is afoot and benefits are coming.
That's true for NFV. Network operators are implementing NFV in real life, and vendors are shipping products. They've got the knuckle-scrapes and bruises to show for it.
The conversation was a timely one, because the NFV market is booming. The global NFV market will grow from a base of $485.3 million in 2014 to be worth $2.2 billion globally by late 2015, and by 2019 generate business worth $12.7 billion, Heavy Reading analyst Jim Hodges said at the conference. Proofs-of-concept (PoCs) are moving into the commercialized phase this year, driving a significant increase in the adoption of NFV-related technology. An increase in spending on NFV projects is not linked to an increase in capex budgets, but is more about the reallocation of budgets away from traditional hardware and software.
So what were some of the key takeaways from the event? Here's a taste of what we learned at NFV Everywhere.
Moving from proprietary hardware to NFV elements is tricky
NFV fundamentally involves moving from purpose-built hardware appliances running customized software to general-purpose hardware running standardized software.
In doing so, network operators should be able to avoid vendor lock-in. In theory they should be able to mix-and-match servers and software from different vendors and play suppliers against each other for the best deals.
But proprietary appliances have their benefits, too, Heavy Reading analyst Roz Roseboro said. They're optimized for performance and hardware utilization.
In other words, as with most transitions, moving from a proprietary appliance model to NFV has tradeoffs.
With NFV, performance and reliability are obstacles. Overcoming those obstacles is a major challenge for NFV implementation. However, the challenge can (ultimately) be met -- and one reward is freedom from vendor lock-in.
Breaking vendor lock-in isn't easy
Most virtual network function (VNF) vendors have a preferred hardware partner, Nima Salehi, manager, technology strategy at Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T), said. "That puts [service providers] back in the spot they were trying to move away from," because network operators are still locked in on software and hardware choices.
These hardware partnerships aren't driven by sinister motives. For optimal NFV performance, software and hardware needs to be tested together for compatibility. Also, vendors use proprietary scripts, and proprietary orchestration extensions to deliver high-performance, reliable VNFs in the absence of standards, and those extensions require hardware validation.
However, partnerships make it hard to break vendor lock-in.
Next page: Just virtualizing isn't enough