Adva simplifies NFV for service providers with updates to its Ensemble platform

Adva is seeking to make NFV easier to deploy by adding major updates to its Ensemble platform. (Adva)

Adva has put its three years of experience working on NFV into a major revamp of its Ensemble suite that it says will make deploying NFV much easier.

The promise of network functions virtualization (NFV) has been hampered by the additional complexities that it has created for service providers. By bringing new elements, such as zero-touch provisioning, service chain monitoring, improved security layers and software management, Adva's Ensemble division is seeking to make NFV much more manageable.

"Our tagline is 'Putting the 'M' in MANO,' where the 'M' is management," said Ensemble CTO Prayson Pate in an interview with FierceTelecom. "We think that there's been a lot of focus on NFV orchestration and not so much on some of the other management features, which are very important for rolling out of NFV at scale, and that's what we're doing in this release."

Pate said Ensemble took the lessons it has learned from universal customer premises equipment deployments with service providers such as Verizon and Colt and incorporated them into the new Ensemble platform.

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"When NFV started, the operators wanted to move away from closed solutions and they wanted to realize some of the benefits of the cloud, such as open COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] servers, multivendor solutions, being able to pick best-of-breed hardware and software, being able to work with their suppliers as partners, and being able to have new commercial models such as pay as you go," Pate said. "So these were all of their goals that they wanted to achieve. And what they saw was that some of their traditional suppliers were saying 'Yes, we'll give you NFV but you got to get it all from us.'

"We took the approach that we believed the NFV mission, the NFV value statements and the NFV goals. So we're open, we work with a wide variety of hardware suppliers, we work with a wide variety of VNFs [virtual network functions], and we work with third-party NFV orchestrators."

Tuning up the Ensemble

The updated Ensemble suite includes Ensemble Connector, Ensemble Orchestrator and Ensemble Director.

Zero-touch provisioning and configuration are enabled by Ensemble Director, which breaks up the design and deployment phases for elements such as streamlining the onboarding of VNFs and integration with OSS/BSS systems.

"What we have seen is that in order to make this [NFV] scalable and deployable, it needs to clearly separate the design versus deployment phases," Pate said. "By clearly delineating those two sets of tasks, it makes it where you can, on the one side, focus on a clean and efficient design for your network. And on the other, have a very efficient, scalable rollout model whether it's done manually or with flow-through provisioning. So that's the basic separation between design and deployment. We're seeing that not every solution is taking this approach and teasing out those one-time tasks and separating them so you don't have to do it each time."

Ensemble Director includes prepackaged designs—for faster deployment of virtualized services—or the ability to create custom designs. The deployment phase provides a simple framework for everyday deployment of services at scale with less-trained staff, according to Pate. The end result is that service providers can ship and turn up COTS hardware to customers and turn it up remotely without needing a truck roll. Ensemble Director also includes the ability to troubleshoot virtual services for service assurance by looking at packets in real time. 

The Ensemble Connector software gives service providers the ability to do software upgrades by using dual configuration and OS partitions. For example, a new software release can be installed on an inactive partition while leaving another nearby partition untouched.

"If one of them gets corrupt you have a fallback, or when you do an upgrade you're able to revert back to the other version if you need to," Pate said. "This is pretty standard as far as telco equipment is concerned, but you're not really seeing much like this in the NFV space. One of the things that we're doing is bringing these telco-type operations and features into the virtualized world to give operators the features that they expect."

Since perimeter security is never enough, Pate said Ensemble has incorporated security across multiple layers in NFV infrastructure (NFVi).

"What we're doing is providing security at all layers through things like making sure we've got the latest patches and scans on our code, limiting access to the VMs (virtual machines) to keep the service VNFs separated from the operating system, applying things like encryption and tunnels at the management layer," Pate said. "With our cloud offering, we now have the ability to do software encryption for the user data. Each of those layers can be separately protected so that if there's a breach at one layer you can contain it to that layer. "

Adva is also working with SD-WAN vendors, including Nuage Networks, Silver Peak, Versa Networks and Cisco/Viptela, for "smart SD-WAN" that includes virtual implementations.

"What we're doing is providing the capability to run those SD-WAN and VNFs as VNFs on a standard infrastructure so that you don't have appliances and you don't have the SD-WAN running bare metal," Pate explained. "So from an operator standpoint, they can offer multiple SD-WAN VNFs, but they can also create a service chain with those VNFs.

"A very common one we see is a SD-WAN VNF combined with a best-of-breed firewall, such as Palo Alto or Fortinet. That's pretty much what everybody's starting with because that provides a very complete and secure solution for access. And because it's running on our open NFVi platform, they can offer different SD-WAN and different firewall solutions to their customers while having a consistent hardware base and a consistent software platform."

Pate said the upgraded Ensemble platform was based on ETSI's NFV architecture, but it was separate from ETSI's Open Source MANO initiative and separate from the Open Network Automation Platform, although it could plug into ONAP as an orchestrator or ONAP could "talk" directly with the Ensemble Connector.

While Ensemble is integrated with other orchestrators from Ericsson, Amdocs and Netcracker, Pate said Adva competes with those same vendors across certain areas of the NFV ecosystem.

"We've been having a lot of success," Pate said. "The reason that we're winning is because we have fully embraced the vision of NFV."