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Latest NFV Headache: Software Licensing

BT's Neil McRae injects the issue into day-long OSS event and industry leaders agree there aren't easy answers right now.

November 7, 2016

3 Min Read
Latest NFV Headache: Software Licensing

LONDON -- OSS in the Era of SDN& NFV -- Software license management and VNF onboarding are emerging as key challenges as network operators push ahead with virtualization in the hybrid network environment that exists today, a number of speakers said here last week.

BT 's chief network architect, Neil McRae, was the first to raise the issue, doing so as an almost off-handed complaint, accompanied by an eye roll, in a morning panel discussion on service orchestration. Noting that in the virtual world, vendors want to sell licenses the way they once sold hardware, he added plaintively, "Please stop doing that."

The topic would come up again repeatedly through the day, a clear indication that managing software licenses for the growing number of virtual network functions that operators want to deploy is a definite problem. Tracking license expirations and managing the whole process as virtualization starts to scale is become a headache in itself, McRae noted.

The BT exec later called licenses "these annoying things" that get in the way of an operator's agility and flexibility.

Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)'s Johanne Mayer, director of product marketing, tackled the topic head on later in the day as one element in the broader challenge of VNF onboarding. Network operators knew what they were buying when they acquired hardware, she noted, but with software the picture is much less clear.

"It seems like it would be simple but there are a lot of hard challenges," she noted. Even basic things are different for operators, such as knowing when to pay for software, what they are actually getting, whether or not their operating environment is ready, and more. Then more challenges await when it's time to make sure software is secure and ready to scale.

Want to know more about managing and orchestrating virtualized networks? Check out our orchestration section in the Light Reading NFV channel.

Mayer referenced work done by one TM Forum Catalyst project, sponsored by AT&T, China Mobile, Orange and Verizon, which worked to define a well enabled VNF package, that can function in a complex ecosystems and enable multiple partnerships as well as automation of the onboarding process.

Oracle is looking for more service providers to get involved in the process, noted VNF vendors "don't really know what you want," and that being able as an industry to define the basics of a well-enabled VNF package would allow a general marketplace of VNFs that would have wide benefits.

"We are finding operators have similar pain points but there is no one size fits all," Mayer commented.

In response to an audience question, Mayer admitted there is no obvious substitution for the software licensing process today but said she believes the industry can make that process better.

Netcracker Technology Corp. 's Sanjay Mewada also addressed the licensing issues in the context of license management and partner management -- two key enablers in the broader VNF marketplace he described. Service providers are definitely looking for help in both areas, he said. Network operators want to partner with applications partners who are network-centric or IT-centric but enabling that to happen in a straightforward way that can be automated is difficult right now.

Like Mayer, he sees the need for general industry agreements on some basis -- like the definition of a VNF. "Right now, it changes every day," Mewada said.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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