Colt boots up production pilot of Lean NFV for internet on demand

After 18 months of kicking the tires, Colt Technology Services has taken Lean NFV into a production pilot for its IP Access on demand service that uses a virtual router.

To date, Colt, Sparkle/Telecom Italia and one other service provider are in different stages of deploying Lean NFV, with Colt the farthest along. In addition to service providers, Lean NFV could also be used by enterprises.

Lean NFV was in the spotlight last year at the Open Networking Summit in San Jose, California. Startup Nefeli Networks is offering the commercialized version of the Lean NFV software. The open-source version of Lean NFV became a standards project in MEF in July.

RELATED: MEF throws its weight behind Lean NFV

Nefeli Networks was founded in 2016 by Nefeli Networks CTO Sylvia Ratnasamy, who is an associate professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Chairman Scott Shenker, who was the co-founder and initial CEO of Nicira before it was sold in 2012 to VMware for $1.26 billion.

Lean NFV is a simplified and elastic form of NFV that, in theory, makes it easier to onboard virtual network functions (VNFs) and containerized network functions (CNFs) by using a key-value store as the universal point of integration.

After initially engaging with Nefeli 18 months ago, Colt Technology Services' Mirko Voltolini, global head of network on demand, said his company put Lean NFV into its lab about nine months ago. After the successful proof of concept trial in its lab, Voltolini said Colt deployed it for internet access on demand in the production pilot and expects to have it widely deployed in the first quarter of next year.

Colt started offering high-bandwidth internet connectivity provisioned in near-real-time with the launch of its IP Access service in November of last year. IP Access is provisioned over Colt's software-defined networking-enabled On Demand platform. Colt's On Demand bandwidth service allows customers to spin up additional bandwidth as needed in near real time. It first launched in Europe threes years ago and was rolled out into Asia Pacific two years ago. Colt announced last year that its On Demand services were available in the U.S., Hong Kong, Portugal, and Austria.

"The initial use case we picked is a fairly simple use case, but it is quite important, because it's the one that gives us the largest volume," Voltolini said. "We have this capability already on the current infrastructure so this is more like a replacement for what we have, rather than coming up with something completely new.

"But in the initial use case, we didn't want to make the initial capability too big. So it's kind of like a minimum viable product we're focusing on right now."

For Colt, Lean NFV is a 1.0 version that needs additional software capabilities to make it comparable to what it currently has in production, Voltolini said

"We're asking Nefeli to develop additional capabilities to meet our requirements in terms of features that should be supported on CPEs," Voltolini said. "That could be routing capabilities. I don't have anything specific in mind, but this is more of a general question of a point of maturity. We need to continue to work with Nefeli to add more and more to their software so that we can then expand beyond the current use case.

"Nefeli is a startup so you have the pros and cons that you have with a startup. They are small and that makes them very agile Conversely, on the other side, they only have a few things they can work on at the same time. So we need to give them an indication on where we want to the software to go."

If successful, Lean NFV would be the third implementation of NFV for Colt. Voltolini said Colt started its NFV journey by going to market with an NFV implementation specifically for SD-WAN, but that version was limited to the SD-WAN portfolio.

The second stab used the ETSI NFV MANO stack. NFV MANO traces its origins back to a whitepaper by ETSI seven years ago, but for the most part, NFV has fallen far short of some its original goals due to its complexities.

"If you look at NFV ETSI MANO stack, there are lots of different components, which all have different interfaces with them. The stack is complicated," Voltolini said. "It has the need to deploy multiple different VNF managers. The interfaces between the various components are loosely defined from a standard standpoint.

"As a result, there is a level of complexity in the actual development of capabilities, which is preventing us from proceeding faster from the pure technical standpoint."

Voltolini said the onboarding of VNFs with Lean NFV was easy to do in the lab pilot, and Colt is in the process of replicating those results in the production environment on its infrastructure.

"Will it be faster? That's a suspicion we have," he said. "We have not yet proven that in the production. We're going through the full cycle of deploying physical infrastructure and deploying the orchestrator. We're well underway with that.

"I think this is going to go beyond the pure scope of what the Lean NFV technology can do. There are a number of other things you need to take into account like the other IT systems that we use."

RELATED: OPNFV evolves and hitches its wagon to Common NFVi Telco Taskforce

The Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT), which is jointly under the auspices of the Linux Foundation's LF Networking and GSMA, is also targeting the onboarding of VNFs and the edge.

Colt is also using Lean NFV for orchestration on its universal customer premises equipment (uCPE), which would mark its third version of uCPE after first deploying a Versa-based uCPE solution and then the current implementation with Adva.

"Where we plan to use Lean NFV/Nefeli in particular is across the board so that you can apply this orchestration capability to a central NFV infrastructure," Voltolini said. "So take NFVi to our universal CPEs, our on prem devices, but also take it to the cloud.

"Today, we don't we don't offer that capability yet in the production environment, but we plan to in the future. We plan to use the same technology across all of the implementation domains."