Marc Cohn is contributing this post as a delegate of the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group.
Few initiatives in the telecommunications community have elicited as much excitement as network functions virtualization (NFV). Last week, over 240 delegates of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) Industry Specification Group (ISG) convened on the banks of the Rhine for their third meeting. Considerable progress has been made in a mere 6 months since the first meeting; the critical end-to-end documents addressing use cases, requirements, and the NFV architecture are progressing to stable draft status within a week.
Bonn was a particularly appropriate venue for the NFV No. 3 meeting. As the former seat of the government in the late 20th century, the 2,000-year-old city has evolved into a centerpiece for global cooperation. The towering UN complex overlooking the Rhine provides a stark reminder that diverse organizations can set aside their individual interests for the greater good — an inspiration for the global and rapidly growing NFV ISG.
The ETSI NFV ISG has attracted broad industry participation, guided by approximately 30 of the world’s largest network operators, and backed by over 100 software, hardware, services, and systems vendors spanning the entire telecommunications value chain. Driven by an explicit charter that encourages collaboration and results over process and bureaucracy, the ISG serves as a role model for future standardization activities.
From the outset, the NFV ISG leadership challenged ISG participants to a pragmatic, iterative strategy designed to enable the entire operator community to realize the compelling NFV value proposition sooner rather than later. Through close cooperation, commitment, and strong leadership, the NFV ISG is well on its way to delivering a broadly applicable NFV platform that operators can adapt to their individual environments.
One critical success factor recognized up front was the need to motivate operators and vendors alike to validate key concepts through proof-of-concept (PoC) demonstrations. Long before the NFV ISG was formed in late 2012, several of the world’s largest operators initiated their own PoCs to investigate a wide range of applications:
- British Telecommunications (BT) shared the results of their in-house Virtual Broadband Remote Access Server (BRAS) NFV PoC in mid-2012 at the Carrier Cloud event in Paris. By early 2013, at the SDN Summit in Paris, BT unveiled test results for implementing hierarchical QoS, virtualized content delivery networks (CDNs), and virtualized IP SEC PoC investigations.
- Deutsche Telekom, co-host of the NFV’s Bonn meeting, publicized a PoC underway to showcase a virtualized IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) platform.
- Orange Silicon Valley (a subsidiary of Orange) is working on the virtual evolved packet core (vEPC) use case, building a testbed in their San Francisco office.
- Telefónica is evaluating and developing a number of virtualized network functions, including home gateway, DPI, and CGNAT.
- Verizon has been engaged in NFV PoCs in their labs since 2011, covering various consumer and enterprise services.
This list represents only the tip of the iceberg, with a number of major operators around the globe having not yet publicized their internal PoCs, spanning a wide range of applications.
To leverage the extensive work to date, and the rising critical mass of the rapidly growing NFV community, the NFV ISG approved a new Work Item “… to coordinate and promote public demonstrations of Proofs of Concept (PoC) platforms illustrating key aspects of NFV.” Seeking to build on the individual PoCs, the NFV ISG intends to endorse PoCs that validate operational readiness, not just yield conceptual demonstrations.
The NFV ISG PoC initiative has already elicited strong vendor and operator interest, with several alliances already coalescing to validate a broad range of network functions. While the PoC framework may not be as widely anticipated as the newest Royal Baby, George, several PoCs are expected to be in progress and unveiled by the end of the calendar year. Over the next three months, NFV ISG delegates will define the details surrounding the NFV PoC framework, which will be initially released in October.
Many of these PoCs will likely be based on proven cloud technologies, including OpenStack and KVM, as well as commercial solutions from the industry leaders. Cloud technologies, however, represent a starting point for the carrier community. The NFV ISG has been exhaustively evaluating available cloud technologies to assess their utility, along with the gaps that must be addressed prior to adoption into carrier networks. Ultimately, the ISG intends to liaise with existing standards development organizations to request the necessary enhancements needed to enable widespread deployment of NFV by operators large and small.
NFV is progressing rapidly, driven by unprecedented network operator collaboration and extensive industry support. By motivating our members to validate novel NFV-driven applications leveraging PoCs, we seek to accelerate adoption of NFV for a broader range of applications. As the requirements firm up, and lab investigations and subsequently trials begin to emerge, NFV is poised to reshape the carrier landscape with a pervasive impact to streamline operations.