Tuesday, September 9, 2014

SDN & NFV part VI: Operators, dirty your MANO!

While NFV in ETSI was initially started by network operators in their founding manifesto, in many instances, we see that although there is a strong desire to force telecoms appliance commoditization, there is little appetite by the operators to perform the sophisticated integration necessary for these new systems to work.

This is, for instance, reflected in MANO, where operators seem to have put back the onus on vendors to lead the effort. 

Some operators (Telefonica, AT&T, NTT…) seem to invest resources not only in monitoring the process but also in actual development of the technology, but by and large, according to my study,  MNOs seem to have taken a passenger seat to NFV implementations efforts. Many vendors note that MNOs tend to have a very hands off approach towards the PoCs they "participate" in, offering guidance, requirements or in some cases, just lending their name to the effort without "getting their hands dirty".

The Orchestrator’s task in NFV is to integrate with OSS/BSS and to manage the lifecycle of the VNFs and NFVI elements. 

It onboards new network services and VNFs and it performs service chaining in the sense that it decides through which VNF, in what order must the traffic go through according to routing rules and templates. 

These routing rules are called forwarding graphs. Additionally, the Orchestrator performs policy management between VNFs. Since all VNFs are proprietary, integrating them within a framework that allows their components to interact is a huge undertaking. MANO is probably the part of the specification that is the least mature today and requires the most work.

Since it is the brain of the framework, failure of MANO to reach a level of maturity enabling consensus between the participants of the ISG will inevitably relegate NFV to vertical implementations. This could lead to a network with a collection of vertically virtualized elements, each having their own MANO, or very high level API abstractions, reducing considerably overall system elasticity and programmability. SDN OpenStack-based models can be used for MANO orchestration of resources (Virtualized Infrastructure Manager) but offer little applicability in the pure orchestration and VNF management field beyond the simplest IP routing tasks.

Operators who are serious about NFV in wireless networks should seriously consider develop their own orchestrator or at the minimum implement strict orchestration guidelines. They could force vendors to adopt a minimum set of VNF abstraction templates for service chaining and policy management.

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