What is your long-term vision for the network within the cable industry?
The network is becoming part of the cloud. Over the last 10 years or so, we’ve seen how virtualization – and just as importantly, development methodologies such as Agile and DevOps that have arisen to leverage it – have increased the pace of innovation for Silicon Valley startups. With SDN and NFV, there is the opportunity to speed up network innovation, as well.
In order to take advantage of the innovation ecosystem around virtualization, the network needs to be built into an end-to-end cloud architecture, alongside compute and storage. Cloud, then, becomes anywhere you have compute, network, and storage capabilities, including cable operator assets. By virtualizing the network, operators can increase their focus on services, rather than hardware. Possible examples could include parental controls and security features, expanding to quality of experience, and eventually allowing integrated services.
How have you been using or viewing SDN and NFV? What are your key use cases?
CableLabs has been working on SDN and NFV since 2012. Since many of the SDN and NFV use cases are common to both cable MSOs and telcos, we’ve been focusing on cable-specific use cases while others focus on common components. In particular, we’re looking at virtualizing the Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) and developing proof-of-concept Virtual CPE (customer premises equipment) to accelerate time to market for new services, and virtualizing the home network to simplify operations and create new services opportunities.
How will you integrate open-source code/solutions into your network? What is the key role for open-source from your perspective?
We believe that open-source software is a key enabler for SDN and NFV, particularly in developing the platform. One of the keys to SDN and NFV is a set of open APIs and data models, which can best be developed by an open-source community – the 80% of the code that delivers 20% of the value. Developing these APIs in the open will unleash the industry’s innovation engine. Developing these in a proprietary fashion simply moves our existing problems to the cloud.
That said, there’s still a role for the vendor community to offer proprietary solutions, particularly in developing virtual network functions and offering integration and support services. And OPNFV, which we co-founded, is creating an open reference platform on which the industry can build solutions and share learning. Our members (MSOs) may take different paths to adoption – some may deploy and support the open-source platforms directly, while others might decide to work with their preferred vendors that can provide support contracts.
We developed a Packet Cable Multimedia (PCMM) plugin for OpenDaylight that allows it to control the existing DOCSIS network while we migrate to a more virtualized future. And we plan to bring our Virtual CPE prototype to OPNFV as a co-development project.
What hurdles remain before you can attain your ideal network?
This technology is still maturing, so there’s still a number of hurdles to address. Management and orchestration is one of the largest and has been talked about quite extensively. Evolution of the supply chain and creating a software integration environment for virtualized networks implies new skills for operators and vendors alike. I think more definition and development of service provider use cases is another area for the industry to address. Finally, there is a scarcity of tools to help service providers take advantage of SDN and NFV as they become available.
What is your perspective on the evolving relationships among standards, open-source, and vendors? What could each of these do better?
In order to have a healthy SDN/NFV ecosystem, we need well-defined software interfaces. In the past, when interfaces were defined in hardware, the standards process was sufficient. However, as we see the move to software, traditional standards processes are proving to be too slow. Open-source is proving to offer a faster path to market with common components developed collaboratively, allowing more resources to be directed towards innovation and differentiation. However, once the software begins to mature, it becomes difficult to transfer the interfaces from one platform to another simply with code.
That’s where the standards processes can kick in, and we are actively involved in the ETSI NFV ISG and in other bodies such as MEF and IETF to document the interfaces to make them more portable while maintaining interoperability. There is a role for the vendors in helping to build the open-source platform and then providing additional value to the industry in the form of virtual network functions, user interfaces, and support services.
What new technology or trend in the networking space are you most curious about and why?
SDN and NFV open up vast new opportunities for innovation in networking. For example, we’re exploring Intent Networking, which will allow an application to make requests of the network without understanding the underlying topology. Our members are deploying networks using many different vendors’ equipment and several different access technologies. Intent will speed up the path to market so that our members can develop services once and have them work with multiple different access networks and pieces of equipment.
Please give us a preview of what you’ll be sharing on-stage at OpenDaylight Summit in July.
What’s in store for the future.
OpenDaylight Summit Preview Series: Part 1