NFV Strategies

New NFV Forum Focused on Interoperability

Another industry group is to develop specifications for NFV, this time focusing on how software-controlled functions should be shared across network operators in an automated way, to enable new services.

Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS) , a North American telecom standards group, today announced its NFV Forum, promising to work with other standards organizations in advancing goals set by its service provider members.

"We are all working at a high level on NFV," says Andrew White, vice president of technology and standards at ATIS. "Once you get into the details, it is very much a distributed software problem. ATIS is working on unique aspects of that."

Those unique aspects include inter-carrier interoperability and new service descriptions and automated processes, including APIs that will enable network operators to expose virtualized network functions to other operators and to enterprises in order to make new services possible.

White cites the example of mobile customers who roam onto another global wireless network provider -- in today's world, those customers are limited to voice, data and messaging services. But if virtualized functions such as firewalls can be shared across networks, roaming customers could choose to take a network security service with them, or choose it from the host carrier.

Among the goals of the new group -- the charter of which can be viewed here -- are to pull web-scale companies such as Google into the discussion along with the largest enterprises, to determine what capabilities they want to be able to extract from the network. ATIS is already trying to engage with web giants such as Google and Facebook as part of its Open Web Alliance. (See ATIS Works to Avert Web Control Battle.)

Tom Anderson, NFV Forum Chair, and principal engineer, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) Mobility CTO, says the ATIS group is already working with key organizations involved in developing NFV, and is very aware of their work because of the shared membership. Specifically, the ATIS group has met informally with Steven Wright of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), the new chair of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV Industry Specifications Group, which launched NFV a few short years ago. Because of the membership overlap, he envisages a self-regulated process to avoid duplication.

"We have done a landscape effort to sort out who is doing what in NFV and to see where the gaps are -- what we are doing is filling the gaps we saw," he notes. "NFV is a really big thing and pretty much people are doing a good job of working on different aspects, and then working together, which is pretty unusual in the standards domain."

Want to know more about functions virtualization? Check out our dedicated NFV content channel here on Light Reading.

The ATIS NFV Forum will build on work already done by other ATIS groups, including its Cloud Services Forum and the ATIS SDN/NFV Focus Group started earlier this year. The Cloud Services Forum produced a series of standards, including metadata for service descriptions, a lifecycle checklist, and requirements for interconnecting content delivery networks in a federated environment. The ATIS SDN/NFV Focus Group has been working on inter-provider service chaining and ways to maximize the business value of inter-provider NFV.

The NFV Forum is promising to deliver things such as priority use cases for NFV, and a common catalog of service descriptions that can be set up between service providers on an aggressive six-to-nine month schedule, White says. The group's priorities are built around business imperatives, he adds, such as defining how companies can find and incorporate NFV-based services into their own software environments and developing or defining service creation tools, all focused on new service and revenue creation.

All of that work will be public and will be fed into other open standards groups where appropriate, White says.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

dfoote 9/17/2014 | 10:23:33 AM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... An essential part of the discussion in ATIS regarding undertaking NFV related work was to avoid overlap.  And this was specifically a key criteria emphasized by SPs that were part of the ATIS members involved in the discussion leading up to the formation of the NFV Forum. 

And to Sam's point in "How Long?", even though it may appear that ATIS NFV work is vendor heavy, just take a look at the leadership team of the ATIS Board of Directors to get an idea of the SP influence on ATIS work.

However, ultimately, the market will decide (e.g. oft cited VHS vs Beta scenario).  So in the worst case, whether there is poorly done self or external regulation or even no regulation at all  (i.e. overlap probably happens), the market (read: "SPs") will decide which of any overlapping specs/standards they want vendors to implement.   Yes, that can slow adoption in the market down as mentioned by others.  But ultimately, overlap usually goes away.

Finally, the NFV area that could have the most potential negative impact due to overlap would be specifically the area ATIS is focusing on and states that no other group is working on yet:  inter-carrier aspects of NFV.  If there is overlap in areas of NFV related to implementation within the domain of a single SP, then SPs don't have to fall prey to implementation slow down because the decision on what to implement is within their control.  Not so with inter-carrier issues.  Multiple SPs have to reach common agreement.  And ATIS has a pretty long history of working on inter-carrier issues.  

With that all of that said, in the case of NFV standards/spec activity, there doesn't seem to be significant overlap . . . . yet . . .  amongst the groups working on it (ETSI, IETF, ATIS) . . .  so far. 

thebulk 9/16/2014 | 2:41:33 PM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... Great point, if there is no advancment then funding will dry up, but still it might take a while to see that. 
cnwedit 9/16/2014 | 2:26:05 PM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... I said this on stage this AM but it was the women's only breakfast so, sharing it here as well.

It is going to be the responsibility of the service providers who are depending on this new technology to help them offer new services, make new revenues, and survive, to keep pushing this forward, regardless of how many different groups try to tackle different aspects.

Chances are that groups who don't meet the goals of their SP members will find themselves losing funding and will fade away. 

I  don't think the AT&Ts, BTs and NTTs are going to remainn interested in funding and attending meetings of organizations which are not advancing their goals. 
sam masud 9/16/2014 | 2:22:01 PM
How long? First ETSI and now ATIS. There likely will be more SDOs or spec groups jumping into the fray. Ergo, widescale deployment of NFV won't happen anytime soon, particularly in the carrier space. Interesting that the ATIS NFV is vendor heavy--unlike ETSI NFV.
thebulk 9/16/2014 | 1:26:26 PM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... Lets not forget sub-sub commities for each group to make sure everything is covered. 

also eventurally we will split the sub commities off into their own industry group because it has outgrown the group it started in... 
Gabriel Brown 9/16/2014 | 11:37:04 AM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... One industry group with many subcommittees sounds exactly what the industry needs ;)

Let's have half-a-dozen of them!
Mitch Wagner 9/16/2014 | 11:10:22 AM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... Wouldn't it make more sense to have one industry group with subcommittees handling each task -- interoperability between carriers, service chaining, etc. -- rather than separate groups handling each of these elements?

Maybe that's a dumb question but I've just started my first cup of coffee. 
[email protected] 9/16/2014 | 10:03:48 AM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... I don't doubt it is unique, and I hope that what ATIS achieves adds value to the NFV ecosystem.

It's just that the NFV specs landscape is starting to look a bit like the Wild West.... in my view only, of course. 

Disclaimer: I have had 6 espresso shots already.
cnwedit 9/16/2014 | 10:00:03 AM
Re: Self-regulated to avoid overlap... Ray,

Those are all  questions I asked them and they were very confident that what ATIS has carved out is unique. I think the fact that the same service providers serve on all these organization boards is one self-regulating mechanism.

But I would agree that there is the potential for the process to be bogged down in organizational minutia. I think it remains the job of the companies for which this is essential to keep pushing it forward. 
[email protected] 9/16/2014 | 9:37:27 AM
Self-regulated to avoid overlap... Good luck with the self-regulation... a regulator might be required to oversee tghe self-regulation.

At what point do we have too many industry bodies developing NFV specs? Are there already too many?

And -- this is not in any way detrimental about ATIS's efforts -- does the NFV ecosystem need ATIS to be doing this work?

Maybe the answer is a big fat YES -- interested to know what others think.


I get the feeling, though, that there are still some industry organizations left to throw their hats into the riung, or even more new groups to be formed.

For me, the ETSI NFV ISG is always the starting point...
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