Network functions virtualization (NFV), a leading topic in the SDxCentral universe, was a big theme at last year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. This year’s MWC starts on February 21. So I ask: What now?
As you know, we’re all excited about the generational architectural shift to NFV and how it’s going to transform networks by driving interoperability, agility, and new services. But we also know that NFV has advanced in fits and starts, with both setbacks and advances throughout 2015. I think we’re in for a more muted assessment of NFV as we get back to the reality of this tough technology implementation.
I still believe that NFV will be crucial to the transformation of operators, because it enables them to more quickly deliver new services on a more flexible platform. It also involves lots of partnership and collaboration – which may be why NFV’s progress has seemed rather measured at times. A lot of last year’s announcements were about just this. As an example, Ericsson demonstrated an evolved packet core (EPC) proof-of concept that included Red Hat, Cyan, and Connectem. Telefónica was the carrier sponsor.
There were, of course, many more announcements of trials, proofs of concept, and even the elusive deals in which revenue actually starts flowing.
MWC 2016 should provide some guideposts to where we might go in the coming year. Will we see more evidence of NFV being used to launch and monetize new services, whether it be a VPN, IP multimedia subsystem (IMS), or Layer 4-7 security? Will new partnerships emerge? Will others dissolve?
Here are some of my top questions about NFV, which I hope to get answered in Barcelona next week.
Cisco and Ericsson on NFV
Contrary to reports in some quarters, Cisco is making headway in NFV and has been building out the features of its evolved service platform (ESP). I’ve been told of many projects in the works and potential new deals. But Cisco has also announced a major partnership with Ericsson. It will be interesting to see how Ericsson and Cisco work together on NFV, especially when they have some competing products, notably at the orchestration layer, where Cisco uses Tail-f and Ericsson has Cloud Manager.
Cisco and Ericsson say their partnership is “already sprouting,” according to my colleague Craig Matsumoto. I’m sure there are many areas in which they will have joint success. But this is a challenging partnership between two gigantic companies, and they will have to make some tough decisions about overlapping product lines and sales channels. Will we get any clues on how they handle this in Barcelona? As an analyst, I’m looking forward to some answers.
Are Mobile VNFs Tops?
So far, NFV has drawn interest in pockets of specific virtual network functions (VNFs), especially in mobile applications. Areas such as EPC and IMS, which are packetized mobile services, have been a focus.
Last year at MWC, Alcatel-Lucent (now a division of Nokia) demonstrated NFV initiatives in EPC and the radio access network (RAN). Yet the former Alcatel-Lucent clarified that it wasn’t ready to move all of its IMS software to open source. Alcatel-Lucent also announced CloudBand 2.0 at the show.
It’s clear that everybody was testing the waters of their new hot NFV apps. But the large equipment providers and operators alike have been cautious about moving to open platforms across the board, because they see proprietary mobile deployments as the “family jewels” that they’re not ready to open up. Will we see more commitment to open platforms in 2016?
Cisco and Deutsche Telekom
Deutsche Telekom has been a leading operator proponent of NFV, open source, and software-defined networking – with Cisco Systems a strong partner. Last year at MWC, Deutsche Telekom and Cisco announced a significant cloud VPN service. The service was built on the orchestration platform Cisco acquired in the purchase of Tail-f, Cisco’s virtual security appliances, and DT’s OpenStack solutions.
This service was a limited launch in DT’s Croatian, Hungarian, and Slovakian markets. It caught my eye because I am optimistic that SD-WAN and cloud VPN services can drive some of the new cloud-based services that could push the NFV market forward. But Cisco and DT have been mum on what’s happened since. Research indicates that virtual edge and SD-WAN applications such as VPN have drawn a large amount of attention from both enterprise users and operators. I’m interested to hear if there is expanded interest this year.
Cisco and IoT
IoT is an expansive concept, but it’s also a complicated collection of many markets and subject to marketing overuse. It will be interesting to see how Cisco fills out this story – or how it may partner with Ericsson in painting the picture in which IoT becomes a revenue driver for the network. There have been some hints of things happening. DT recently announced a new public cloud offering built on Cisco technology that it says targets IoT and is “compliant with German data sovereignty legislation.” Maybe we’ll get more news on German IoT data centers in the halls of the MWC.
What’s Up With Telefónica and HPE?
Last year at MWC, one of the marquee announcements was that HPE (then just HP) announced its OpenNFV platform had been selected by Telefónica to drive its UNICA virtualization project. Since then, the industry trades (including this one) have reported that Telefónica has backed off a bit from using HPE as its primary vendor, as it looks to expand its range of partners. This isn’t surprising at all – as I’ve pointed out, the goal of NFV is to be more collaborative and open by its nature. You’re supposed to have partners. It will be interesting to see if Telefónica has any incremental news on this front.
As you can see, I already have a long list of technology tapas I expect to be delivered to my plate in Barcelona. I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised on the coast of the Mediterranean. And I hope to see many of you in Spain, where a large number of the SDxCentral crew will be reporting back on what happens.