The communications industry is known for its love of three-letter acronyms. SDN and NFV are at the top of the list, with API, a long-standing information technology term, close behind. Traditional network and information technology engineering are being pulled together by this fundamental shift in the industry. This combination promises great reward in terms of service agility, new revenue streams and cost savings. It also presents significant challenges in terms of migrating legacy equipment, services, business operations, and network operations.
Both the MEF and TM Forum, prominent standards development organizations (SDOs) in the communications industry, are at the center of this transition. These SDOs are joining forces with communications service providers (CSPs) and solution providers to practically explore what this transition can achieve in the upcoming Catalyst project “Zero Touch Network as a Service: Agile, Assured and Orchestrated With NFV,” which will be showcased this June in Nice at TM Forum Live!
A Vision for SDN, NFV, and Networking as a Service
The goal of the Catalyst is to implement a radically simplified user experience via self-ordering for a complex Carrier Ethernet service, with zero-touch orchestration and full integration with critical business and operational processes, across a hybrid network made up of physical and virtualized infrastructure. The proof of concept is unique in that it will provide a holistic, end-to-end perspective on how to enable this for a Carrier Ethernet use case that is aligned to TM Forum and MEF standards. Project champions PCCW Global, Charter Communications and Axtel will map the use case and standards to their business and operational canvasses to show relevance and application.
“Customer experience is one of the most important focus areas for this particular Catalyst and for the Forum’s ZOOM program,” says Ken Dilbeck, VP, strategic programs, TM Forum. “CSPs realize that the way to sustain and grow revenue is always going to be through the ability to measure and improve customer experience.”
TM Forum describes the digital ecosystem as being made up of many partners, a concept they refer to as a “value fabric,” where many non-linear relationships are woven together to deliver services to customers. These ecosystems must be built on secure, software-defined networks and connected through open, standardized APIs in order to be flexible, cost-effective and easy to manage.
The Forum’s Frameworx suite of standards-based tools and best practices, including the Information Framework (SID), provides common language, business processes, information, KPIs, and APIs to build successful digital partnerships.
“There are touch points between the different network operators involved in delivering services to end customers, whether they be wholesale, metro Ethernet, MPLS, or wireless providers,” Dilbeck explains. “We’ve been focusing on trying to minimize the friction at those touch points.”
In September of last year, the MEF published its Third Network Vision, which combines the agility and ubiquity of the Internet with the performance assurance of Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (defined by the MEF) to deliver a new network. This vision is based on the pillars of SDN, NFV, and Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO), the MEF’s way of standardizing orchestration.
“It’s agile, it’s dynamic, and it’s assured in terms of both security and performance and then orchestrated both within an operator and between operators to create an end-to-end service,” says Daniel Bar-Lev, director, certification and strategic programs, MEF. “In our minds, the Third Network is not restricted to MEF-defined Carrier Ethernet services – it also encompasses other services that may be defined at Layer 1, Layer 2, or Layer 3.”
Both forums demonstrate strong views on the service in that it has a lifecycle, a start and a finish that require policies, orchestration and automated interaction to enable its delivery.
A Catalyst for Inter-Standards Development Organization Collaboration
The goals of the SDOs — in this case, TM Forum and the MEF — are to drive greater alignment in the industry and between SDOs. First, this is done by expanding upon TM Forum’s Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management (ZOOM) program and the MEF’s Third Network vision, which both address requirements for a practical, commercialized introduction of SDN– and NFV-based technologies. Second, this is done by increasing and evolving the way SDOs collaborate to achieve success for industry members. Collaboration is critical to both.
The TM Forum and the MEF recently formalized a partnership that will help accelerate these processes. Service and technology experts from companies that are members of both organizations are forging a more structured collaboration model and a comprehensive plan to maximize synergies and the use of standardized assets.
“We are trying to remove as many of the barriers as possible to collaboration so that we allow subject matter experts to work together and deliver common documents that can be used by both groups and by the industry as a whole,” Dilbeck says. “It’s our members that set our direction and move us forward, and they’re saying, ‘Let’s work together and come up with a unified solution.’”
Bar-Lev points outs that, “There’s a lot of work going on in other SDOs that actually have to interface with each other in order for our Third Network vision to succeed. We’re defining LSO, and we’re recommending and collaborating as to how solutions being developed by other SDOs can interface with LSO and vice versa. That’s a fundamental part of our vision.”
What is clear is that there is a push by both forums toward software-centric networks, which, in turn, is driving this new model of collaboration. Whereas in the past, CSPs worked in hardware-oriented environments where standards were developed, tested and implemented over the course of months or years, software-based networks are much more fluid and dynamic. Thus, the SDOs themselves must evolve to become equally fluid and dynamic.
“The Catalyst is one aspect of the inter-Forum collaboration. By working together, we can see how our information and data models align with the frameworks defined in TM Forum,” says Bar-Lev. “We see [the Catalyst] as an acceleration of our collaboration because it sets a deadline. This Catalyst is based upon a very successful proof of concept that was initiated by Oracle and InfoVista at last year’s GEN14 event.”
Virtualization is a key enabler for these shared visions by providing a mechanism to enhance aspects of service agility and take advantage of cost-savings from commoditized hardware platforms. Furthermore, it enables a more software-centric, collaborative-based innovation. What was once an issue of customized ASIC production lines, where iterative change was impractical, is now moving into the realm of rapid software development practices. These practices not only enhance the speed of innovation but also, in terms of virtual network functions, provide additional flexibility and service agility for CSPs. This will be demonstrated through Juniper Networks’ participation in the forthcoming proof of concept.
“SDOs are realizing they need to mimic that fluidity in order to handle how fast standards need to emerge, how quickly they need to change, and how much interaction you need to have with other groups to make things happen,” Dilbeck says.
It’s about enabling automation: automation drives agility, and agility, at least for now, is driving the industry.
Check out Part II of this series, where Axtel, Charter Communications, and PCCW Global provide their views on realizing the opportunity that this shared vision of SDN, NFV, LSO, APIs, and Network as a Service provides; and Part III, in which software & hardware solution providers (InfoVista, Juniper and Oracle) provide their views on the practical elements of making network-as-a-service work.