Mobile World Congress 2017 was bigger and buzzier than ever this year, with 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) dominating industry conversation. For VMware, the computing virtualization specialist, the event offered a key opportunity to highlight an important focus area around supporting these initiatives for communications service providers (CSPs). Through VMware’s unified software-defined architecture spanning network functions virtualization (NFV), mobility and IoT, global CSPs can benefit from potential new revenue streams with sustainable cost reductions, increased flexibility and security, and a modernized network. To date, the company already has more than 80 NFV production deployments in place across 45 CSPs, built to support network transformation for 5G and beyond.
In this interview, Gabriele Di Piazza, vice president of solutions, Telco NFV Group at VMware, shares his insights on the biggest trends that he saw at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
SDxCentral: What interesting technologies did VMware showcase at Mobile World Congress this year?
Gabriele Di Piazza: Our message is about helping telecommunications providers realize what’s possible through software-driven digital transformation. We highlighted our NFV portfolio, and also focused on a new release, of VMware vCloud NFV, our next-generation NFV infrastructure (NFVI) platform.
With our latest release, we are enabling accelerated service introduction and automation, including service creation, onboarding and deployment, and enabling policy-based resource and workload allocation across the NFVI.
Our new release is built on four key pillars:
1) Security and multi-tenancy — CSPs can achieve complete service isolation in a secure multi-tenant environment across NFVI functions. As a result, multi-VNFs with multi-services will be able to seamlessly but securely share the same infrastructure.
2) Operational management and intelligence — We have added a set of functionalities that provide a 360-degree view of the infrastructure, along with proactive and predictive analytics to deliver performance feedback and fast remediation capabilities. CSPs gain full visibility of all components within a deployed service across overlay, underlay, virtual, and physical environments.
3) Carrier grade features — We are providing a stable, resilient platform with zero-touch patching and provisioning, advanced high availability (HA) features, proactive and predictive VNF resource monitoring and closed-loop remediation, performance enhancements like accelerated packet performance, and improved security hardening. This is a core piece of what we’ve been discussing at the show—ultimately, virtualization must be seen from a business point of view. We want our customers to be more agile and achieve a quicker time to revenue with new services.
4) Lowering cost through management features — This ultimately affects the customer experience. The platform provides automated recommendations to simplify micro-segmentation deployment through VMware vRealize Network Insight; and enhanced REST API’s to automate management of the NFV infrastructure deployment lifecycle.
Were there additional focus areas for VMware at MWC this year?
We also unveiled an additional set of services targeted at carriers around enterprise mobility management. Building on our AirWatch device management and security product, these features can now be provided as a managed service by operators to offer bring-your-own-device (BYOD) security and encryption and enterprise collaboration services such as email and file sharing. CSPs can also provide common digital workplace experiences across users via VMware Workspace ONE.
Also at MWC we announced a partnership with Harman, around accelerating IoT. We are integrating Harman’s portfolio of over-the-air (OTA) software updates, sensors, gateways, and analytics services into VMware’s IoT and NFV solutions for CSPs.
There was a lot of discussion around Internet of Things (IoT) applications like connected car and smart cities at Mobile World Congress. How do you think those applications will be impacted by NFV?
They’re not just impacted by it — NFV will become an absolute prerequisite for launching an effective set of IoT applications. We must connect the IoT “phenomenon,” if you will, with the rollout of 5G technology in the upcoming years. Our CEO delivered a keynote at MWC, and the key point he made was that 5G will rely on a programmable network, and for that, you need a virtualized infrastructure behind it. And that’s the only way to create a next-generation business case around IoT.
There’s no doubt that CSPs are looking at IoT as a big opportunity. If you walked around the show floor, you saw all of the different carriers — not just vendors — showcasing entire sets of IoT offerings. They know this is an opportunity for them to launch a new generation of innovative new offerings. NFV is the core of this evolution, and will enable them to move forward to create that truly unique portfolio of services.
Virtual network functions (VNFs) are an important part of the virtualization of the network. What is VMware doing to accelerate the development of VNF?
First, we really want to make sure that VNFs are proven, tested, and certified on our infrastructure, through our VMware Ready for NFV certification program. We are working actively with many vendors, and we publish certified results. This is about fostering choice; we open up the platform through open APIs and OpenStack. We want to make sure that carriers are confident that when they select a VNF to put on that infrastructure, that is really tested and proven. To date, 34 VNFs have been certified as VMware Ready for NFV, with many being deployed in production customer environments today.
Secondly, we are launching a set of initiatives to modernize VNFs and move them into the cloud-native environment. At MWC we hosted a VNF on-boarding hackathon event with Intel and Cloudify, which is one of our orchestration partners. This aimed to address one of the key challenges for NFV: The ease of onboarding VNFs. There is currently no de facto industry standard for deploying a VNF onto virtual infrastructure managers (VIM). But at the end of the hackathon we had 35 self-onboarding VNFs describing themselves through topology and orchestration specification for cloud applications (TOSCA)-based language.
We also are working with CSPs and advising them on how to leverage this infrastructure to evolve their architecture, so they can take advantage of what the true cloud provides in terms of consuming platform resources, be it compute, networking, or infrastructure in general.
What other interesting things did you see at Mobile World Congress this year?
I’ve never seen so many connected cars—and there were even connected bikes. In general, the GSMA has been creating a culture of IoT and connected things for the last five years at least. But this year, looking at the operator side, there were more services on display that focus on connected things in general, be they connected cars, smart city, precision agriculture, connected analytics, and so forth. It’s very interesting to see these things moving from pet projects to becoming part of the wave of next-generation services, with the marketing of carriers behind them.
I also noticed that MWC is attracting very large enterprises now as well as vendors and operators. I noticed financial services companies, manufacturing organizations, and those from other industries, and I believe the focus on the next generation of mobile architecture is becoming interesting and relevant even here. I would not be surprised if you see many of these operator technologies cross over from the telecom space to be leveraged in vertical enterprises.