Neil Holmquist is leading Spirent’s efforts to define and build testing solutions to benchmark cloud infrastructures and IP carrier networks. Neil started his career at Spirent 15 years ago as an engineer developing next generation network testing solutions. Over the past eight years, he has been responsible for the product requirements and marketing of Spirent’s cloud and IP solutions, helping to bring innovation to reality. Neil has also been part of the team responsible for the transition of Spirent to a virtualization test and measurement company.
Holmquist: With traditional network functionality going through a game-changing transformation toward virtualized NFV and SDN functionality, testing of networks is becoming a critical part of how they need to be designed, built, and managed. Vendors will still need to verify protocol interoperability, confirm scale requirements, and test performance and security. What’s new and did not exist in the traditional network design is the infrastructure that the NFV and SDN networks are built upon. There is a new “OSI” model for virtualization that introduces unpredictability in network rollout (as shown in the below diagram). The role of testing in NFV and SDN is to stress the infrastructure to ensure the network performance, scalability, and resilience of shared infrastructure demands and security.
Based on Spirent’s experience, who typically performs these tests? And whose responsibility is it to test? Do different parties test different things?
Holmquist: Anyone who has the role of network design, management, and monitoring has an absolute need for testing. At Spirent, we have seen a range of customers from data center and network operators to cloud providers use testing. For some carriers with groups dedicated to building out an infrastructure that the NFV services will run on top of, others assume it will work or are waiting for someone else to prove that it works. The splitting up of testing the infrastructure from the virtualized network services is dangerous. One of the bigger challenges we hear from carriers actively developing for NFV service chains is that they do not know where the bottleneck is, or they don’t have the experience to know how to determine where that bottleneck is. This leads to a lot of unnecessary cycles between multiple groups resulting in production delays and longer time to market for the new virtualized services.
How does Spirent go about assessing the real world end-user impact of deploying SDN and NFV solutions?
Holmquist: Step one is using our traditional hardware and modern protocol emulation to assess a real world predictable scale and performance through a standard COTS server running an NFV service chain. User network traffic is highly unlikely to be generated and terminated within single COTS, so it is important to stress the entire virtualized stack, from physical NICs on the server to the vCPUs running specific VNFs. Once a baseline of performance is set, Spirent introduces our new product offerings as server load and impairment generates to cause noisy neighbor scenarios that we can then assess the performance impact it has on the NFV service chain, or use it to test the management and orchestration policies to move or quarantine disruptive virtual services.
Doesn’t testing just slow down deployments?
Holmquist: Spirent aims to support a continuous integration process to eliminate the uncertainty inherent to NFV and SDN deployments. Testing these deployments not only helps validate all the components under test, but also pinpoints the root of any issues.
Testing over the past few years has gone through an evolution itself. With growing adoption of agile development and continuous integration, there is a reduced need for a dedicated month-long testing cycle at the end of a development or network architecture. Testing can be done continuously to ensure stability of a product or network and have a higher confidence at release.
What standards are relevant in SDN and NFV testing? Are we seeing convergence or is there still a state of high flux?
Holmquist: Maturity of NFV and SDN offerings is one of the biggest challenges in moving to NFV. In fact, Infonetics performed a recent study and 95 percent of the respondents marked “immature technology” as a problem holding back commercial NFV deployment. The standards organizations that are relevant to NFV and SDN are:
- ETSI NFV defines the communication between management and orchestration. Without a standard way for VNFs to integrate, each carrier/provider will create a custom proprietary communication. Custom MANO interfaces make it unsustainable for VNF vendors to make their products interoperable with multiple MANO systems.
- Network service chaining functions are being standardized by the IETF that will allow end-to-end service chains to be created with multiple vendors in a manner that ensures interoperability
- SDN is broken up into two areas: data center and service provider. Data center SDN is being led by the ONF specifically for the OpenFlow standard. Service provider is being led by the IETF defining standards such as Path Computational Element (PCE), segment routing, and BGP-LS.
We believe that standardization is still a bit in flux, however, what is helping drive convergence is the open community. Projects like OPNFV and ONOS are working on putting several pieces together to drive the industry forward. We also see this happening within the private community as well, with companies like NTT, Cisco, Alcatel-Lucent, NEC, Hitachi, and Alaxala, banding together to drive forward SDN and NFV.
What would you recommend enterprises and service providers do to learn more about deploying SDN and NFV solutions? Where can they go to figure out how to make SDN and NFV reliable and deployable?
Holmquist: Participation in one of the many communities will help enterprises and service providers learn more about the reality of where SDN and NFV technologies are today. Spirent participates in the open communities and standards bodies leading change and helping vendors overcome the uncertainty in selecting technologies that are right for their environment. Spirent has recently published an eBook moving NFV from PoC to deployment along with a series of white papers on how to test NFV across the boundaries of virtual and physical networks. Please visit Spirent’s NFV and SDN solution page for more information and join us to hear from Infonetics and Spirent experts on “Accelerating SDN and NFV Deployments” webinar to learn more.