Telus' Mitchell: Industry needs to change cultural mindsets and embrace cloud-native

Telus' Bryce Mitchell addresses some of the concerns the telco industry has around the current state of NFV. (FierceTelecom)

Telus' Bryce Mitchell is sounding a rallying cry to push carriers, vendors and open source communities more aggressively into cloud-native approaches for NFV.

Speaking at Light Reading's NFV and carrier SDN conference this week, Mitchell also said that service providers needed to work on the cultural changes from within as they deploy software at scale in their networks.  

Mitchell agreed with some of the industry chatter at the conference that NFV wasn't living up to its potential, but he's optimistic that with cloud-native approaches it can.

One area of continued concern is that it's taking service providers too long to deploy virtual network functions (VNFs) and those VNFs are also costly to deploy in their current state. Service providers are spending too much time and effort testing, validating and deploying VNFs, and none of those tasks are really automatable, Mitchell said.

"From a VNF perspective, things are not as automatable as we would have hoped," said Mitchell, the director of NFV, cloud, innovation labs and support networks at Telus. "These VNFs are more of what was called a 'lift and shift' type of deployment. So you took a traditional piece of software that was running on vendor-provided hardware, and it came in a contained almost black-box type of solution, and that got lifted into a virtual machine and then dumped onto a pod and boom! We've got NFV and we got all the benefits and life is good and we're done.

"Well that's not exactly true because these VNFs are very difficult to work with. They tend to be tightly coupled within themselves, and they tend to not have the openness and APIs that we would need in order to manage and configure them."

But VNFs aren't the only area of concern when it comes to service providers virtualizing their networks.

"Furthermore, we've also got a whole host of challenges outside of the NFV domain," Mitchell said. "So if we can spin up a virtual network function relatively easily, if we solve the VNF challenges themselves, we still have a lot of challenges on our back-end systems. So it's not super-meaningful for me if I can spin up an instance of a VNF you can see, but I can't have it flow into my billing and provisioning systems or into my OSS management systems.

"For those of you that have been in the industry for awhile, you realize that those are some of the really long poles of the tent for us to deploy network functions, whether they be physical or virtual, into our network. And so these challenges today are kind of holding us back from achieving the full benefit of NFV. Add on top of that, NFV is a massive change in approach for a carrier."

In order for virtualization to move forward, service providers need to overcome the cultural challenges they face. Mitchell said that there weren't enough skill sets for legacy employees when it came to VNFs, NFV and enabling automation, so Telus built new teams from the ground up.

"It's a monumental cultural change that we're going through internally within the carriers to be able to better make use of this technology," Mitchell said of NFV. "What we're seeing is a whole host of activity around moving toward cloud-native architectures and cloud-native designs. And a great amount of that effort is coming from the Linux Foundation and their folks to push the whole telco ecosystem in this direction. I think that is going to be absolutely key, along with closing down the cultural aspects and challenges that we have within carriers and within the industry in general."

Mitchell said his team discovered a bug in an open source stack that took them nine months to resolve by working within an open source community before folding it back into a supported product and deploying it out into production.

"That's a huge barrier to how we work today," he said.

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Primarily through the Open Networking Automation Platform and OpenDaylight, the Linux Foundation is providing a road map for VNFs to be developed in a cloud-native fashion as well as providing common frameworks that the industry can "wrap our heads around culturally and skill set-wise."

"So I really see us moving towards proper microservices and API-driven, built-for-cloud from the ground up type of NFV solutions," he said. "I see that trend happening in the industry, and I see that being absolutely critical for us to achieve success and get up the value of NFV.

"So my hope for today is to leave this as a bit of a rallying cry," Mitchell said to the conference attendees. "We've got a lot of smart folks in the industry here. But we really need to push ourselves as carriers, and we really need to push our vendors towards these type of solutions if we really want to be able to get at the full value of NFV at the end of the day."