There was one brief shining moment when ETSI's first network functions virtualization white paper was issued when network operators thought they would be able to abandon the massive purpose-built OSSs that had been dragging them down for years. This was in exchange for a shiny new virtualized stack with its own MANO software.
Sadly, that OSS Camelot faded quickly and was replaced by the vision of a hybrid virtual and physical network that unfortunately comes with its own set of challenges.
"Reality started to sink in for service providers," says James Crawshaw, senior analyst of OSS/BSS Transformation at Heavy Reading, referring to the dream of a fully virtualized OSS stack with its own MANO software. "They said, 'Hang on. Some things I might want to introduce using virtualized infrastructure, but other parts of my network, whether it's the core routers or DSLAMs or optical networking infrastructure, I'm not going to virtualize.' "
As much as operators would like to switch off their traditional OSS, they aren't going to because "it's a hassle and there are too many systems," he tells Light Reading. "The dream would be to switch everything off and switch it over to having one software system running everything and the entire company could be managed by one monkey. But sadly, that's not the reality."
Sans the one monkey dream, operators are now looking at a way to coordinate between existing OSS systems and new MANO systems for the virtualized infrastructure while vendors are trying to position themselves as an overarching orchestration layer sitting on top the MANO and the traditional OSS.
"It remains to be seen as to exactly how the problem is solved," Crawshaw says. "Clearly the telecom operators don't want more complexity in their networks. They don't really want another software layer but it may be that pragmatism takes over and you get some sort of service orchestration layer."
What they do want from a virtualized network has been well documented. They want a network that is dynamic and constantly changing -- but the challenge is making that network happen in a cost-effective and efficient way -- and this is the topic of Light Reading's OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV event in London on November 2 where Crawshaw will present his latest research on the industry progress toward a next-gen OSS.
"They don't want some sort of static network where you know where all the boxes are and how many ports they've got," comments Crawshaw. "They want a network that is changing based on demand -- new virtual servers are spun up as demand increases and then switched off when demand subsides. That means that the OSS inventory systems needs to be updated on a much more frequent basis."
In addition to making sure their inventory systems are updated more frequently, another operator pain point is service assurance. "How do you ensure the service you are delivering is meeting the quality that the customer expects? How do you pinpoint problems?" said Crawshaw. "The challenge there is [to] deliver a mixture of physical and virtual infrastructure and pinpoint the source of the fault. It becomes challenging. Is the OSS coordinating with the MANO or is it doing its own probing and detecting how the underlying hardware is working? It's an interesting space to be covering because people are still figuring this stuff out."
Those "people" include groups such as the six-month-old Open Source MANO Community (OSM) , which launched its first software release yesterday, AT&T's ECOMP and Linux Foundation's OPEN-Orchestrator Project (OPEN-O) . (See OSM Quick on First Release Trigger.)
"Part of the excitement about NFV and the approach that ETSI took with NFV was it said, 'We don't want to slow this process down. We want to promote open source. The ETSI NFV working group will only have a finite life and we want other groups to take over,' " said Crawshaw. "I think the pace that we are seeing is a result of that."
— Elizabeth Miller Coyne, Managing Editor, Light Reading