Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NFV world congress: thoughts on OPNFV and MANO

I am this week in sunny San Jose, California at the NFV World Congress where I will chair Thursday the stream on Policy and orchestration - NFV management.
My latest views on SDN / NFV implementation in wireless networks are published here.

The show started today with a mini-summit on OPNFV, looking at the organization's mission, roadmap and contribution to date.

The workshop was well-attended, with over 250 seats occupied and a good number of people standing in the back. On the purpose of OPNFV, it feels that the organization is still trying to find its mark a little bit, hesitating between being a transmission belt between ETSI NFV and open source implementation projects and graduating to a prescriptive set of blueprints for NFV implementations in wireless networks.

If you have trouble following, you are not the only one. I am quite confused myself. I thought OpenStack had a mandate to create source code for managing cloud network infrastructure and that NFV was looking at managing service in a virtualized fashion, which could sit on premises, clouds and hybrid environments. While NFV does not produce code, why do we need OPNFV for that?

Admittedly, the organization is not necessarily deterministic in its roadmap, but rather works on what its members feel is needed. As a result, it has decided that its first release, code-named ARNO will be supporting KVM as hypervisor environment and will feature an OpenStack architecture underpinned by an OpenDaylight-based SDN controller. ARNO should be released "this spring" and is limited in its scope as a first attempt to provide an example of a carrier-grade ETSI NFV-based source code for managing a SDN infrastructure. Right now, ARNO is focused on VIM (Virtual Infrastructure Management), and since the full MANO is not yet standardized and it is felt it is too big a chunk to look at for a first release, it will be part of a later requirement phase. The organization is advocating pushing requirements and bug resolution upstream (read to other open source communities) to make the whole SDN / NFV more "carrier-grade".

This is where, in my mind the reasoning breaks down. There is a contradiction in terms and intent here. On one hand, OPNFV advocates that there should not be separate branches within implementation projects such as OpenStack for instance for carrier specific requirements. Carrier-grade being the generic analogy to describe high availability, scalability and high performance. The rationale is that it could be beneficial to the whole OpenStack ecosystem. On the other hand, OPNFV seems to have been created to implement and test primarily NFV-based code for carrier environment. Why do we need OPNFV at all if we can push these requirements within OpenStack and ETSI NFV? The organization feels more like an attempt to supplement or even replace ETSI NFV by an opensource collaborative project that would be out of ETSI's hands.

More importantly, if you have been to OpenStack meeting, you know that you are probably twice as likely to meet people from the banking, insurance, media, automotive industry as from the telecommunications space. I have no doubt that theoretically, everyone would like more availability, scalability, performance, but practically, the specific needs of each enterprise segment rarely means they are willing to pay for over-engineered networks. Telco carrier-grade was born from regulatory pressure to provide a public infrastructure service, many enterprises wouldn't know what to do with the complications and constraints arising from these.

As a result, I personally have doubts for the success of the Telcos and forums such as OPNFV to influence larger groups such as OpenStack to deliver a "carrier-grade" architecture and implementation. I think that Telco operators and vendors are a little confused by open source. They essentially treat it as a standard, submitting change requests, requirements, gap analysis while not enough is done (by the operators community at least) to actually get their hands dirty and code. The examples of AT&T, Telefonica, Telecom Italia and some others are not in my mind reflective of the industry at large.

If ETSI were more effective, service orchestration in MANO would be the first agenda item, and plumbing such as VIM would be delegated to more advanced groups such as OpenStack. If a network has to become truly elastic, programmable, self reliant and agile, in a multi vendor environment, then MANO is the brain and it has to be defined and implemented by the operators themselves. Otherwise, we will see Huawei, Nokialcatelucent, Ericsson, HP and others become effectively the app store of the networks (last I checked, it did not work very well for operators when Apple and Android took control of that value chain...). Vendors have no real incentive to make orchestration open and to fulfill the vendor agnostic vision of NFV.

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