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NIA to Tackle NFV's Ball & Chain: Interoperability

Ray Le Maistre

Industry body The New IP Agency (NIA) has launched a certification program aimed at tackling one of the biggest challenges holding up the deployment of virtualization -- interoperability. (See The New IP Agency Announces Interoperability Certification for Next-Gen Virtualization.)

Despite years of industry development, there is no way for an operator to know whether various NFV elements and systems can interoperate and be deployed together without undertaking their own lengthy and costly lab testing. The NIA's program, which will run initially from the labs of European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) -- a long-time NIA partner -- in Berlin, Germany, aims to provide network operators with the confidence that certified systems are ready for prime-time deployment and, importantly, provide all the information about the certification testing process.

The move is an important step for the industry and one that is being demanded by major operators such as Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, Cox Communications and Boingo, all of which are NIA members that have steered the industry group in this particular direction. (See NIA Preps NFV Certification Program .)

"Our expectation is that the Certification Program will increase the speed-to-market of interoperable service chain solutions so that customers can more quickly reap the benefits of NFV," stated Victoria Lonker, vice president of Integrated Network and Security Solutions at Verizon, in the NIA's statement about the program.

The testing will be based on the TST007 specification under ETSI rules. "Each successful test will be publicly announced via a certificate PDF/logo identifying the test suite, date of issuance/expiration, implementation(s) under test and reference ID to an online registry describing configuration parameters, test cases executed, validated interoperability partners and other details needed to reproduce the tests independently," notes the NIA.

What this means in practice is that network operators will be able to access the data related to successful interoperability tests that have been verified by EANTC, one of the most trusted test labs in the global networking industry.

The focus of the certification program will be VNF (virtual network function) onboarding to VIM/NFVi (virtualized infrastructure manager/NFV infrastructure), and NFVO (NFV orchestrator) network service management interoperability.

"This builds on, and is a natural extension of, the interoperability work that the NIA has done in recent years and is based on the ETSI TST007 specifications, to which EANTC has contributed," notes Carsten Rossenhövel, managing director and co-founder of EANTC. (See NIA Tests Reveal OpenStack Version Challenges.)

"The industry has been asking for meaningful certification for a while, and the NIA's members are looking for a certification they can depend upon, but currently there isn't anything in the industry they can reference in their RFPs. With this process we will publish the details related to each certificate," adds Rossenhövel. "There have been some efforts by vendors, but those have only included their immediate ecosystem and there have been some test programs as part of open source projects, but nothing industry-wide and meaningful."

He continues: "This is different to classic certification programs because this is all about interoperability. For a long time the industry has worked with a single reference implementation to test against, Openstack, but Openstack is too much of a moving target. So we are certifying everyone against everyone else and we are open to the whole industry -- not just commercial systems but open source too. There will be a lot of testing to do but… we have an automated test process to make things go quickly and smoothly," says the EANTC man.

Rossenhövel says EANTC and the NIA are reaching out to prospective participants now and the first round of certification testing will begin in the second quarter.

While EANTC is the test lab partner to start, the program will not be based around just one lab, notes The New IP Agency Founder and Secretary Steve Saunders (who is also Light Reading's founder and ongoing contributor). "This program gives the industry what it has been crying out for and unlike other test programs, we are not tied in a monopolistic fashion to a single test lab. All participants are looking forward to welcoming other test labs on board and during the next few years we will have a lab in the US and one in Asia, as well as in Europe," stated Saunders.

Saunders's reference to a test monopoly is an undisguised dig at the MEF, which has for years run Carrier Ethernet certification programs with a single lab, Iometrix.

NFV-related test programs are also run by standards body ETSI, mostly notably its NFV Plugtest, but a Light Reading examination of the process suggests that while the process provides the industry with useful information and guidance, there is no independently verified certificate produced as a result of the process. The most recent ETSI NFV Plugtest was held last month, so an announcement about the outcome should be available in the coming weeks. (See this press release.)

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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