Has AT&T ICE'ed VNF Onboarding?
As part of the release of ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy) into open source, AT&T will later this year release the software it's been using as part of the VNF on-boarding process called ICE for Incubation & Certification Environment.
That could influence ongoing efforts for the telecom industry to address the need for a common approach to bringing multiple virtual network functions into their networks.
As network operators move to commercially deploy network functions virtualization, they are being stymied by the multiple ways that vendors have created for on-boarding VNFs. Public statements from people such as Chris Rice of AT&T and David Amzallag of Vodafone have identified VNF on-boarding as a critical issue, and one that needs to be solved across the industry. (See AT&T's Rice: Stamp Out NFV 'Snowflakes' and Vodafone: Desperately Seeking Cloud-Centric Tech.)
There are multiple standards development organizations (SDOs) looking at this process, including the MEF and the TM Forum, that are willing to work together on this process.
Speaking earlier this month at AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s big 2017 tech statement at its flagship store in San Francisco, Rice said ECOMP, now an open source project under the Linux Foundation, will spell out what a VNF should look like, but there will need to be further action, including something such as ICE, to enable the on-boarding process to be streamlined and automated. (See Will ECOMP Be the Alpha MANO? )
Erik Sundelof, lead engineer on AT&T's Domain 2.0 project, said in an interview at the same event that the ICE software, developed for D2, would be released into open source at mid-year. AT&T has used it so far to do 238 validations of VNFs, including 132 different VNFs -- the difference in the number relates to iterations of the VNFs.
There are three distinctly different things done in the process -- incubation, validation and collaboration -- and Sundelof said AT&T now is able to allow on-boarding in a self-service model and validation by an automated process that has been reduced from an average of 16 downs down to an average of six days.
"The focus of this is to on-board into ECOMP and Domain 2.0 -- that is the focus of what we are doing," he said in an interview with Light Reading. It will be up to the open source community to decide how to utilize ICE once it is released, he added.
ICE was built from scratch, Sundelof said, based on a series of interviews he conducted with all stakeholders -- those internal to AT&T and those at vendors -- to determine how the process had to change.
"When we do physical network functions, we need 18 to 24 months for a version" of gear to be added, he said. "In software, you are looking at two to three months max, with multiple iterations in there. So we had to determine how to make sure that we develop software and virtual functions that can be on-boarded in the most efficient manner possible, so they can focus on the virtual function and not on getting it onto the platform."
The three different key things that are part of ICE -- incubation, validation and collaboration -- are separate processes and not every vendor will use them similarly, Sundelof said, but in general the greatest success in on-boarding VNFs quickly has gone -- not surprisingly -- to those who reached out as early as possible in developing their software to determine what's required.
"We have it set up where they can come here, test it early and get accustomed to what you need to do to get on-boarded," he comments. "Validation is more like we check to see what you are doing and what you need to do in order to work with the platform and get in."
The third step, collaboration, is the vendor and AT&T working together to enable the VNF to accomplish the appropriate commercial goals. ICE is set up to enable that while "keeping every validation secure no one is seeing each other's software, of course," Sundelof said.
"We on-board in a self-service model, we run automation to all of the requirements to do that validation, and we are continuously building out the automation scrips," he said. "When we are now open-sourcing ICE in the second half of this year, we will be releasing all the test scripts, all the experience, all the platform -- every possible thing, in order for everyone to do it all themselves."
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading
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