Can NFV Really Change Carrier Culture?

The looming culture change that's necessary for NFV does seem to be happening at large carriers, panelists at the NFV & Carrier SDN conference report.

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

September 29, 2017

4 Min Read
Can NFV Really Change Carrier Culture?

DENVER -- NFV & Carrier SDN -- Arguably the most difficult facet of SDN and NFV is the implied cultural shift that carriers would have to undertake, adapting to a software world and a DevOps philosophy. But speakers on panels here this week sounded confident that the change really is happening.

"The culture where it was designed to perfect five-nines, it is actually changing," said Vikram Saksena, chief solutions architect with NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT). People want to put something out and pivot quickly if something goes wrong. That is one aspect I was skeptical would be adopted quickly, but I'm seeing more positive progress on that."

The situation varies by carrier, of course, but panelists were encouraged that Tier 1 operators are embracing software culture. AT&T has dived headlong into open source with its ECOMP project, now part of ONAP.

Along similar lines, BT took a top-down approach, with leadership insisting on a software focus throughout the company. "We actually started five or six years ago," said Jim Sabey, head of connect and compute sales specialists for BT in the US. "That culture change has been really awesome to see, when it's 30-year [veterans] saying we need to change."

"The old way of work was to answer everything before you do anything," said Prayson Pate, CTO of the Ensemble group of ADVA Optical Networking , during a Thursday afternoon talk. ADVA has seen that attitude change among carriers. As an example, Pate cited Verizon and the universal CPE that it announced in May.

"They had a very aggressive timeline they were pushing. This was very different from in the past," he said. (See ADVA Stuffs a Cloud Into Verizon's uCPE.)

Pate suggested carriers were better off starting small with NFV rather than trying to start with a "grand unified architecture for everything." Projects of the latter type often get stalled, he said. His advice echoes some of the early chatter around NFV, when some operators and vendors suggested a focused use case, such as customer premises equipment, would be the right place to start.

Sharing best practices
Carriers aren't the only ones modernizing. Vendors are embracing elements of software culture, too -- which seems sensible, considering many of their products are turning into pure software plays.

"There is a greater willingness to share best practices across the industry, both from practitioners and vendors," said Shashi Kiran, chief marketing officer of Quali, during one panel session.

Some of this comes from carriers insisting on vendor interoperability. Carriers no longer want to -- or have to -- have "siloed conversations" with only the top vendors, BT's Sabey said.

NFV is "changing the conversations with our partners now to say: Hey Riverbed, hey Infovista -- how does your product, when it's put in a virtualization type of environment -- NFV, x86 server, whatever -- how does that integrate with Cisco routing on the same box? How does it work with Palo Alto [Networks] on the same box?" he said.

"We're now seeing operators who are laying down the law and saying: If you want to participate in this RFI or RFP, you must operate in a multivendor ecosystem, period," ADVA's Pate said.

That, in turn, raises the importance of using APIs to let one vendor's software talk to another's. This, in turn, comes back to the growing willingness to cooperate among vendors -- most vendors, anyway.

"There are others that will only work with you kicking and screaming when the customer, the operator, threatens to throw them out," Pate said. "We're seeing less of that."

This all might sound heartening for smaller vendors, but then again, most NFV projects are still in the lab, where everybody can be friends and risk-taking is relatively easy.

"You can go in and win the proof-of-concept and be the best product on the block, but then it comes down to risk. Is the carrier willing to take the risk?" said Steve Shalita, vice president of marketing and business development at Pluribus Networks .

— Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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