Proof-of-concept trials are essential steps on the way to making network function virtualization practical, helping iron out technology problems and build confidence.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) developed the Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Proof of Concept (PoC) Framework to coordinate multivendor PoCs, with the goal of building awareness and confidence in NFV technology and developing an open ecosystem for NFV, said Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, speaking on a Heavy Reading webinar Monday: "Lessons Learnt from NFV Proof-of-Concepts: The Pathway to Commercial Deployment." The archived webinar should be available at that link beginning 4:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday.
"NFV is a radical and ambitious transformation of service provider networks, and a critical part of commercializing the technology are the various proof of concept programs, or PoCs, under way around the industry," Brown said.
Results achieved from PoCs guide work in developing NFV standards by providing feedback on interoperability and other technology challenges, Brown said. Successful PoCs also boost confidence that NFV works. And the iterative nature of the PoC program is closer to the agile model that the industry is trying to adopt, rather than the traditional, waterfall development model. Of 34 ETSI PoCs approved to date, over 100 companies are participating, proving the reality of multivendor interoperability.
Also, participants in NFV PoCs are available at conferences for questioning, helping to build awareness, Brown noted, adding that the PoCs help companies learn to cooperate, building personal and professional relationships.
"You can think of it as a front-end investment that will reduce TCO for operators," he said.
Added confidence will only drive support for technology that already has a lot of momentum behind it. Some 79% of mobile operators are running trials for virtual network functions (VNFs) on their live networks now, or plan to in the next two years. Almost two thirds, or 62%, plan to deploy VNFs in live commercial networks in the cloud within two years, with an additional 7% already started. And 37% have many VNFs deployed in the cloud or plan to within two years, with an additional 44% planning in the next two to five years, according to a Heavy Reading Mobile Operator NFV survey last year.
Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) is one example of a carrier aggressively implementing NFV. It insists on multivendor environments, selecting HP as a prime integrator, Brown said. (See Telefónica Releases OpenMANO NFV Orchestration Stack, Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans and Telefónica Taps HP for Unica NFV.)
NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) has an ambitious NFV plan to deploy virtual EPC by March 2015. (See Cisco Boasts NFV Trial With NTT DoCoMo, NTT Launches NFV-Based Cloud Services and NFV Lets NTT America Flex Its Networks.)
Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) will use NFV to allow group operators on the carrier's pan-European network to create and compose services from a centralized catalog and cloud environment, Brown said. (See Deutsche Telekom Turns On Pan-European IP and Is DT About to Blow Our SDN Socks Off?)
And China Mobile Communications Corp. has an OPNFV test lab opened, working with nine vendors. Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. is an open source project developing an NFV platform. (See Wind River, China Mobile Team on NFV .)
Also on the webinar, Prodip Sen, CTO of Network Functions Virtualization at HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), described HP's NFV efforts. The company has 12 PoCs in the funnel, with 23 active and 10 completed.
Sen described ETSI NFV PoC 23, which HP participated in with SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM) in Korea, Samsung Corp. , and Telcoware. The goal was to test VNFs for LTE core networks, including determining whether performance of the VNFs is comparable to physical counterparts, as well as testing lifecycle management, and achieving multi-vendor orchestration while using a GUI for NFV management support. Results were largely successful, but faced challenges, including evolving specifications from ETSI and OpenStack, and need for self-testing agents that could reduce the time spent on debugging, Sen said.
John Healy, general manager of the SDN division at Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), described his company's participation in ETSI NFV PoC #6, testing a virtualized mobile network with integrated deep packet inspection. The test showed a DPI VNF can be used for service awareness and availability, open source and open standards enable interoperability between NFV components and that Intel Open Network Platform performance optimizations can deliver line rate to NFV components.
Webinar participants raised several other points during Q&A:
- NFV requires a mix of optimizing for performance and standard platforms. Network operators will need to decide where to deploy standard platforms and where optimization makes sense based on understanding network functions and requirements, Healy said.
- The OPNFV initiative started with telcos and service providers, but is working to integrate technology upstream to OpenStack and OpenDaylight. "We're very conscious that we don't want to create different forks of all these projects and create a maintenance nightmare," Sen said. The goal is to create technologies that work on all networks, not just carrier networks.
- Containers are already being used in cloud service providers and are making their way into telco-grade and service provider NFV, Healy said, adding that he can't provide public examples.
Missed the webinar or want to watch it in again? It'll be available for playback at 4:30 p.m. EDT on Tuesday: "Lessons Learnt from NFV Proof-of-Concepts: The Pathway to Commercial Deployment."