One question increasingly raised throughout the SDN/NFV community is, “Why are there so many groups associated with NFV/SDN?” While the answer is subject to debate, no one should be surprised that NFV and SDN are far too pervasive for any single organization and/or industry body to control.
Early on, the ETSI Network Functions Virtualisation Industry Specification Group (NFV ISG) recognized the need to closely engage with many other groups to achieve the ultimate goal for driving NFV adoption. In late 2013, with the NFV baseline specifications well on their way, the ETSI NFV ISG leadership began to explore of role open source software in the NFV implementation phase.
The result was unveiled in September 2014, when the OpenPlatform for NFV open source project was announced. OPNFV (pronounced “O.P.NFV” and not to be confused with OpenNFV, HP’s proprietary NFV Platform) was formed under the Linux Foundation. The response has been phenomenal, with over 55 members within the first eight months.
OPNFV has altered the model for traditional open source projects, which typically are oriented toward creating a componentized platform for integration into a broader solution (e.g., OpenStack and OpenDaylight). Another departure was close involvement of network operators from the outset, along with the traditional constituents — telecommunications network equipment suppliers and software firms. And instead of developing new software as its primary focus, OPNFV focuses on integrating existing (so-called upstream) open source projects.
Opening Up to Open Source
Prodip Sen (HP), Chairman of the Board for OPNFV and the first ETSI NFV ISG Chair commented “Our primary goals for creating OPNFV were to accelerate implementation and interoperability. We leveraged the open source collaborative model for essentially short-circuiting the typical long telecom standardization process. In just seven months since formation, we created an integration environment that allows automated build, deployment and testing of some of the key resource orchestration and network control components for the NFV infrastructure. This is a supreme testament to the power of the collaborative community and the strength of the vibrant NFV ecosystem, which validates the new path to standardization.”
In late February 2015, the ETSI NFV ISG and OPNFV convened simultaneously in Prague. The OPNFV group held its first Hackfest, where the community collaborated on the code in real time. At the same time, the ETSI NFV ISG held its ninth meeting to formally initiate work on NFV Phase 2. Both groups took advantage of the common venue, spending hours discussing how the two groups would engage.
Margaret Chiosi (AT&T), president of the OPNFV project, observed, “The OPNFV platform offers the potential to thoroughly understand and refine the NFV Architectural Framework. We plan to share the community knowledge from our work with the ETSI NFV ISG in OPNFV integration and experience to enhance the requirements.”
OPNFV and ETSI NFV ISG share many common members providing continuity and collaboration across the NFV specification and implementation activities. In addition, leading participants in the so-called upstream projects — which OPNFV has adopted into its open source NFV reference platform — also directly participate and contribute. Even though differences in approach between the broadly supported NFV industry group and the new open source project were evident during some of the meetings, any differences will be resolved within the member companies, as much as through the interaction between the NFV ISG and OPNFV groups. Both the ETSI NFV ISG and OPNFV senior leadership teams are aligned on their common mission- to stimulate a vibrant open ecosystem to ultimately drive adoption for NFV.
ETSI NFV ISG Chair Steven Wright (AT&T) asserted “Since inception, the ETSI NFV ISG’s mission has been to implement its NFV vision by influencing industry groups, standards bodies, and open source projects, each pursuing its own strategy and objectives. The ETSI NFV ISG and OPNFV leadership teams recognized the need to collaborate closely during the industry’s initial NFV transformation. This has been solidified with the Letter of Intent recently executed to ensure alignment.”
Such close coordination, however, begs the question of what role each group plays in the evolution of NFV. The ETSI NFV ISG has focused on the “what” and “why.” OPNFV focuses on the “how” and “when.”
Specifically, the ETSI NFV ISG was formed as an Industry Forum, driven by some of the world’s leading operators to prioritize use cases and requirements, and to define a high-level NFV architectural framework and a highly successful proof-of-concept framework that motivated more than 35 PoCs. While the NFV ISG may produce standards, it recognizes that many other industry groups will need to be engaged to develop the domain-specific virtualized network functions (VNFs) at the core of the NFV ecosystem.
The OPNFV project has a very different charter — to be the place where the industry can collaborate to build an open, common NFV reference platform available to all to test, evaluate, and deploy NFV. The community is comprised of over 100 developers from a range of service providers, commercial suppliers, and open source communities, working together to achieve the OPNFV vision.
OPNFV Technical Steering Committee Chair Chris Price (Ericsson) observed “The platform enables the community to work with OPNFV upstream projects and ultimately bridge the gaps that exist in the NFV requirements. As the code base continues to mature we can envision a future where commercial deployments of OPNFV become available, but that will take time.”
An Infrastructure Focus
For its initial release, the OPNFV community focused on the NFV infrastructure (NFVI), which serves as the foundation for the NFV architectural framework defined by the NFV ISG. The NFVI encompasses the virtualized infrastructure manager (VIM) and VNF managers, which enable VNFs to be instantiated, hosted, and managed. Addressing higher-layer pieces such as NFV management and orchestration (MANO) will be discussed after a stable NFVI is established.
OPNFV selected a baseline set of open source components as a starting point, but: “OPNFV does not intend to select winners and losers; that is the market’s job,” states Heather Kirksey, Director of OPNFV. “Our goal is to develop a platform that is inclusive and open but focuses on integrating the components together into a solution.”
Don Clarke (CableLabs), chair of the ETSI NFV Network Operator Council (NOC), indicated, “OPNFV is doing the heavy lifting to create a baseline reference platform that will form the basis for NFV sand boxes around the world. Different teams will be able to test their use case scenarios using the same base platform configuration enabling them to have far more effective conversations about learning and test results.”
Operators intend to leverage the OPNFV platform for evaluation, and channel the knowledge and learnings back to the NFV ISG to refine the requirements and architectural framework. In addition, the OPNFV project intends to participate in the upstream open source projects to provide feedback on new requirements based on the NFV target use cases.
Michael Brenner (ClearPath Networks), vice-chair of the ETSI NFV ISG and a major contributor to NFV Phase 1, indicated that “the complexity of the NFV architectural framework and especially the management and orchestration is such that the only way to iterate the architecture is by implementing and integrating the pieces, and iterating the requirements based on actual end-user experiences.”
Yet again NFV turns the conventional wisdom upside down. Instead of specifications driving implementation, the OPNFV reference platform will help drive the requirements, which in term will drive evolution of the reference platform.
As a result, both the ETSI NFV ISG and OPNFV efforts will be closely coordinated, albeit from separate groups. In February, 2015 the NFV ISG and OPNFV groups executed a Letter of Intent (LOI) to formalize and promote their close collaboration. The LOI also addresses the plans to validate NFV solutions. Ericsson and Intel have already established NFV labs for that purpose and announced that they are open to the community. Many more are expected to emerge over the next few years.
OPNFV is off to an extremely positive start, and the community expects to make its initial release available by mid-year. As operators and vendors alike gain access to the code, we can expect additional trials, NFV proofs-of-concepts, and a refinement of the NFV requirements.
By working together, and recognizing “we” truly is us, NFV will rapidly evolve and develop, guiding how carriers deploy virtualization technology over the long-term.