NFV (Network functions virtualization)

Overture Trials NFV Software With Hidden Punch

Overture Networks is trialing an NFV software appliance designed to make it easier for service providers to create more flexible and inexpensive alternatives to managed business services. It struck me as a respectable but ordinary product announcement -- but the former chief architect of the CloudNFV initiative explained that it's actually a big deal.

The vE-CPE Ensemble Solution Pack, announced Tuesday, includes virtual branch office router, VPN, and firewall, with additional virtual network functions (VNFs) available as options. Carriers can deploy the software in a centralized environment like a data center or central office, or distribute the software to virtualization platforms on customer premises.

Overture Networks Inc. expects to roll out additional solution packs in the future.

The Solution Pack is built on Overture's Ensemble Service Orchestrator and Ensemble Network Controller, two pieces of its architecture for creating software-defined services at the metro services edge -- in other words, in service providers' enterprise customers' premises. (See Overture Unveils Orchestrator & Controller for NFV).

The orchestrator and controller use open APIs to make them deployable in any service provider architecture, together as a system or independently, Overture said.

The orchestrator uses a bundled OpenStack cloud controller to manage the virtual compute environment, including virtual machines, switches, and top-of-rack data center switches. The controller manages the physical wide area network traffic flows, but the orchestrator can also be integrated with other third-party network controllers.

The Ensemble Network Controller automates service creation, activation, device detection, fault management, and performance monitoring.

Ensemble OSA automates and manages both the physical carrier Ethernet and virtual infrastructure to help service providers introduce new revenue-generating services quickly and with agility, Overture says.

Overture introduced the Ensemble Open Service Architecture in March 2013, as a strategy to bring the benefits of the cloud to the metro edge. (See Overture Sets Up Its SDN Plan.)

The vE-CPE Ensemble Solution Pack bundles the orchestration and controller software with pre-integrated virtual functions for partners.

The Solution Pack is designed for service providers who want to deliver virtualized enterprise services but don't have the resources to evaluate and integrate individual components, D. Mark Durrett, VP Marketing at Overture Networks, told Light Reading. "What we're doing at Overture is doing the legwork for them," he said. "Today, service providers deploy hardware appliances on the customer site, often purpose-built, one for each service." These appliance require truck-installation, with support and maintenance headaches. "Lastly, if the service provider wants to upgrade or upsell the customers, they typically have to roll out another truck to upgrade the system."

Service providers would have the flexibility to, for example, offer a 30-day trial of a managed enterprise service without expensive hardware costs.

The CPE virtual appliance will be available in the second half of the year. It's being used in a trial by a Tier 1 service provider, and there are four proofs-of-concept being done by two Tier 1 service providers and two large CLECs.

So what's the big deal? I talked to Tom Nolle, a veteran industry consultant and the CEO and president of CIMI Corp. , who said he got a demo of the product. He disclosed that he's done some consulting for Overture, but only a little bit, and the last of that was a year ago.

Nolle told me that Overture offers a complete NFV solution in an industry where NFV is more hype than reality. "There are multiple pieces to an NFV implementation, and most people who claim to do NFV have a limited implementation of one piece," said Nolle, who founded the CloudNFV initiative and served as its CTO until stepping down in February.

Looked at from the narrow perspective of the product capabilities, it "seems fairly pedestrian," Nolle said. But there's a complete NFV implementation underneath, putting Overture ahead of bigger players including Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco Systems, Juniper, HP, IBM, and more. "Overture does more than they need to do," Nolle said. "I have not seen a commercial offering of NFV that matches this in capability from anybody."

The thoroughness of Overture's implementation makes it a prime takeover candidate, he said.

He added, "What they've done is more important than what they claim to have done. That's rare. I don't run into that too often." And then he laughed.

— Mitch Wagner, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profileFollow me on Facebook, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading. Got a tip about SDN or NFV? Send it to [email protected]

Want to learn more about SDN and the transport network? Check out the agenda for Light Reading's Big Telecom Event (BTE), which will take place on June 17 and 18 at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. The event combines the educational power of interactive conference sessions devised and hosted by Heavy Reading's experienced industry analysts with multi-vendor interoperability and proof-of-concept networking and application showcases. For more on the event, the topics, and the stellar service provider speaker lineup, see Telecommunication Luminaries to Discuss the Hottest Industry Trends at Light Reading's Big Telecom Event in June.

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TomNolle 5/2/2014 | 4:18:43 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now Tom's Third Law:  The amount you "hear" about any technology is proportional to the square of the number of ears!  There are many more prospects for SDN because it's a credible enterprise technology.  NFV, if you're a "strict constructionist" with what it means, is pretty much a service provider thing.  NFV, at the next level down, is also a LOT more complicated, which also discourages people.

Mitch Wagner 5/2/2014 | 3:33:11 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now I'm still just a beginner on NFV. I understand the general philosophy -- as I said, it's an easy one to understand. Even the archetypal grandmother could understand it. But the details are complex. 

I hear a lot more about SDN, but maybe that's just because it's what my ears are tuned to. 
TomNolle 5/1/2014 | 3:36:28 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now The devil is in the details for both SDN and NFV, I guess.  Yes, NFV is about hosting functions on something versus using dedicated purpose-built devices but that's only a definition and it wouldn't help much in understanding what a vendor was announcing.  There are three distinct pieces to NFV (the VNFs, MANO, and the infrastructure) and there are issues with implementation in all three.  Vendors need to address what their implementation does in all three of these areas.  Most NFV pitches are really focusing on just a little piece.

I'm not sure whether the slides would have helped you, though.  My own approach is to review a deck, then tell the vendor what slides I'm willing to talk about and whether I think they're going to have to buttress what they say about them for me to get the details.  I found the demo to be significantly more helpful than the slides, but as you pointed out in the article I have specific implementation/architecture background with NFV so I can view a demo and see through the GUI to the underlying processes.  It's a tall order to expect someone writing a story to do that, and I don't know what the answer is in terms of communicating the details.  My own deck on a next-gen management/orchestration framework is currently 50 slides and growing!  Even a Tom Nolle fan would nod off in that kind of preso unless they REALLY needed to get all the details.  No publication would run anything that long!

Mitch Wagner 5/1/2014 | 2:52:35 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now TomNolle - The concept of NFV is arguably easier to explain than SDN, which NFV is often paired with. 

In a nutshell: "You take functions like load balancing, firewalls, VPN, and so on, and run them as software rather than hardware appliances."

That's an oversimplification but it gives a person a general idea. 

Overture could have said something like, oh, by the way, we have a complete infrastructure for NFV as well. This product is build on that. They did use the word "architecture," but I view that as a marketing buzzword and tend to tune it out. Perhaps I have been wrong to do so. 

In an follow-up email, Overture said the background comes over better if I had viewed the slides along with the interview. I don't view slides when doing interviews -- I find that diminishes rather than enhances my understanding. Perhaps I ought to rethink that. 
TomNolle 4/30/2014 | 2:55:23 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now I don't disagree.  I think most product announcements these days tend to miss the mark for one reason or another.  In the NFV and SDN and cloud space, though, there's a big hurdle to get over, which is that the topic is so darn complicated that you sometimes don't know where to start.  Today I did a truely global webinar on open-source management and orchestration for SDN, NFV and the cloud.  The attendees were all experts, and it was a tough slog for an hour and a half to cover the basic points.  That's a LOT of time for anyone to spend.  I think it may be that programs like your upcoming Chicago event are a better way to get things across--you can immerse people because they're there and in the right mindset!
Mitch Wagner 4/30/2014 | 2:47:35 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now I do think Overture could have done a better job getting the message out here. If you had not been chatting with Carol Wilson, who passed your initial comment on to me, I would have written this up as a straightforward product story ("humdrum," as you said) and moved on, without seeing the deeper significance. 
TomNolle 4/30/2014 | 2:42:09 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now That's a good question, Mitch.  The problem for any "solution vendor" these days is that the lead guy in the solution is expected to carry the water in support and responsibility for the process.  If you're a network vendor like Overture who has products that are very specific to metro Ethernet, do you want to propose, install, and support an NFV solution that covers a golbal infrastructure when your own revenue, coming only from metro, is paltry compared to the effort?  You'd have to charge the customer, and we know the customer doesn't want to pay.  Most network vendors have come to realize that they can't be a bigger player than their own product footprint.  Overture may be smart in limiting themselves to that footprint in how they position.

But why then build something so much better than it has to be?  One reason is that you never know whether your product footprint might not grow, or whether some other vendor would buy you or partner with you (with financial consideration) to do more.  Another reason is that the effort needed to do just a little NFV isn't much less than the effort to do it right.  I think their big question now is whether to be aggressive in seeking opportunities to play a larger role, or to let others come to them.
Mitch Wagner 4/30/2014 | 2:37:01 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now TomNolle - Thanks for your contribution to this story -- really beefed it up. 

Do you think Overture made a marketing error by positioning this as a focused solution rather than go for the broad NFV message?
TomNolle 4/30/2014 | 1:23:42 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now That's very true, Carol.  What's particularly appealing in edge-driven NFV strategies is that costs tend to scale with revenue if you can host functions proximate to the user.  If you rely on deeper cloud data centers for hosting, you have to build out first, market second, and hope customer revenues will come to drive up cash flow.  You have what the operators have always called a "first-cost" problem, where you deploy at great expense just to get in position, then wait for opportunties to pay back your investment.  Meanwhile, your cash flow has gone way negative.
Carol Wilson 4/30/2014 | 1:01:42 PM
Re: Complete solutions more important now Tom,

That makes sense - what strikes me about the edge deployments is that they can be cost-justified by the carriers right now and they address a specific pain point. 
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