Service providers want openness, vendor collaboration when deploying NFV, SDN, say panelists

ORLANDO, Fla.--A group of panelists at the Genband Perspectives 15 conference said the best way vendors can help service providers take advantage of network functions virtualization (NFV) is to provide an open and collaborative environment.

This is unlike the traditional hardware world where service providers were beholden to closed architectures. If a service provider wanted to get a new feature or launch a new service, it would have to wait for the vendor to develop it--a scenario that could delay time to market.

In the NFV arena, there has been a lot of talk about openness, and there's been no shortage of industry-wide initiatives, including Open Source, Open NFV and Open Stack.

Renu Navale, director of network builders for Intel, said that the openness concept is about a broader notion of driving collaboration between all of the players involved in the NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) ecosystems.

"NFV itself is about the migration of monolithic, proprietary platforms into standard high volume hardware and software platforms," Navale said. "When you look at what goes on top of standard, high volume platforms, it's really about an open ecosystem of commercial partner solutions and products and open collaboration that can drive interoperability between all of these solutions."

A representative for Hewlett Packard, which was chosen by Telefonica to be its technology provider and systems integrator for its Virtualization Infrastructure known as project UNICA, agreed.

"One of the most important questions/demands we get when we talk to carriers is they don't want to get into another vendor lock-in situation," said Werner Schaefer, VP of NFV for HP. "They feel like today that with a lot of the partners that they worked with for the last few decades, they are at the mercy of their update cycles and the technology was extremely hard to change."

Schaefer added that "ultimately, we don't believe that the carriers will be comfortable with a switch and turn and mix and match concept, but the principle that I can change and pick another vendor or pick another app and bring others into my own ecosystem is really something we hear literally every day."

Even if vendors and solution providers work to create a seamless environment where solutions can work together, Charlie Ashton, director of business development for networking solutions at Wind River, says that when service providers deploy a multi-system network, there's inevitably going to be issues that will need to be resolved.

"The open architecture of ETSI has made it possible for a large number of software companies, in particular, to get into this market," Ashton said. "From the service provider's point of view, that's great, but a lot of the solutions they'll end up deploying will be multi-vendor solutions and in theory everything should just work together, but in practice there's a big gap in what the PowerPoint says to do and what you actually find when you put the elements of the solution together."

With its Titanium Cloud ecosystem, Wind River engages with a number of vendor partners to ensure that their software and hardware works with its own solution so a service provider does not have to be concerned about the integration process. This in turn takes out the risk for the service provider deploying NFV.

"In order to de-risk the process for service providers that we're targeting with our Titanium server product, we make sure that our partners' software and hardware works correctly with our solution," Ashton said. "We work together with a group of companies with very detailed engineering interactions to verify their software and hardware works with our solution so the service provider does not have to worry about that integration and any associated risk that would go along with that."

While there are still issues to be sorted out on how to best implement a multi-vendor NFV and SDN network environment, momentum around these technologies continues to ramp. According to a recent Dell'Oro Group report, a number of large carriers will begin embarking on some very large projects over the next year.

A number of service providers including AT&T (NYSE: T), Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) all signal that service providers are embracing NFV and SDN. AT&T has set the year 2020 to migrate 75  percent of all of its network elements to software and has extended its SDN-based network on demand capability to 100 cities, while Verizon recently named its key vendors for its SDN migration.

But telcos aren't the only ones embracing these technologies.

Cable operators like Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) have set a foundation to implement NFV and SDN into the network. The service provider recently announced that it is deploying the latest version of Cisco's Universal Broadband Router (uBR) CMTS product, which includes SDN capabilities. 

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