As Senior Director of Solutions Marketing, NFV & SDN Solutions, Jeff Baher has over 20 years of marketing experience in Enterprise IT and Service Provider industries. SDxCentral sat down with him to discuss their NFV Strategy and what we can expect from their NFV approach.
SDxCentral: There’s been a lot of market movement on NFV lately and we’ve seen quite a few announcements from Dell, could you provide some insight into what Dell’s been doing and catch our readers up on recent activity?
Baher: Dell has been extremely active in the NFV market space bringing solutions to market, responding to customer RFPs/RFIs, and engaging in customer proof-of-concepts (PoCs). The basis of our solution offering is the Dell NFV platform which we introduced last fall. Our NFV platform maps directly to the ETSI NFV architecture, with the focus being on the bottom half of the architectural stack, namely the Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure (NFVI) block and the Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) block. The NFVI block comprises our server, storage and networking portfolios converged together, while the VIM block comprises element management and fabric management software.
Our NFVI and VIM solutions are made complete with a choice of Linux and Openstack distributions including flavors from RedHat and OPNFV, plus options for additional ‘foundational’ software for virtual routing, data plane acceleration, and security.
How would you compare Dell’s approach to the other networking vendors?
Baher: At Dell, we aim to fundamentally turn the telecom industry on its end, from vertically-oriented and proprietary offerings to horizontally-oriented and open offerings. And we believe we are uniquely positioned to do so. We recognize this is a significant shift against the historical backdrop—carriers have traditionally only worked with a handful of vendors, each of which stood up their own proprietary fixed or mobile stacks.
But our experience with Enterprise IT offers a different lesson. What started off in the hands of only a few in the form of the vertically-oriented and proprietary mainframe (IBM, Amdahl, Wang) was turned on its end with the ushering in of the client-server era. This fundamentally broke the shackles of the propriety triggering explosive growth at the chip level, system level, OS level, and application level. Rates of innovation accelerated and in the end a significant amount of choice, flexibility and freedom bestowed to the customer.
When we look at the NFV market, we see a similar opportunity but ultimately the big question remains…will carriers repeat history and work with only a few proprietary offerings, or will they seize this opportunity to reshape the vendor ecosystem in a more horizontal fashion.
Our bet is on the latter…enabled by strict adherence to open standards and a long-standing commitment to open source, both of which are critical for enabling a truly open and horizontal orientation. And when we look at the other system vendors in the industry (i.e. those that offer both Enterprise IT and Carrier solutions) and the approaches they are taking, our mission and vision stands apart as unique.
What is your NFV strategy and why are you taking this approach?
Baher: Against the backdrop of our vision of turning the telecom industry on its end, our NFV strategy and approach is simple. It starts with focusing on what we do best which is delivering world-class server, storage, networking, and convergence technologies and solutions. This forms the basis of our NFVI and VIM offerings which can be scaled to support the gamut of environments and use-cases from single-function unstaffed points-of-presence environments to multi-function hyperscale data center deployments.
Our strategy and approach is made complete through partner ecosystems. Through our adherence to open standards and open source, we aim to enable the broadest range of partner ecosystems to operate on top of our platform. This in turn allow carriers to enlist the broadest ecosystem of VNF and Orchestration packages, and experience the least amount of ‘lock-in’ tax. This approach is sharply contrasted by the system vendors that aim to stand up only their flavor of VNFs and Orchestration package on their NFVI and VIM platforms solely. We see that as simply doubling-down on the current mode of operation, and not delivering the level of change ultimately desired.
What do customers stand to gain from Dell’s approach?
Baher: More than anything, our approach to NFV is about choice. We recognize that when it comes to NFV, the predominant thinking and thought-process is tops down: Do I have plans to virtualize my service infrastructure, yes or no? Do I plan to do this with my incumbent providers, yes or no? Do I plan to enlist a broader (or new) ecosystem of ISVs and integrators, yes or no? In answering these questions, different combinations of technology and solutions emerge, and typically not all from one vendor. The goal with our horizontal approach to NFV, is to be able to support as many different combinations of incumbent solutions and new solutions as possible.
For customers, this means they can view the NFVI and VIM blocks as uniform and consistent and capable of supporting many different personalities versus viewing the NFVI and VIM blocks as either vendor specific (e.g. Cisco only, or HP only) or use-case specific (e.g. vEPC only, vPE only).
Is open truly open? What are the key differentiators in Dell’s open strategy vs other open approaches?
Baher: Well now that seems to be the $64,000 question these days. No doubt there is a whole lot of ‘open-washing’ occurring. In fact we often joke that “open” is the new proprietary. At Dell, we believe that there are really four degrees of “open” when it comes to NFV. The first degree, and the one we’re seeing the most of right now, talks open standards but in the end provides a walled-garden experience for VNFs, Orchestration, NFVI and VIM and tends toward vertical, proprietary integration.
In the second degree, we start to see a decoupling of infrastructure elements from software elements. Here, the customer will be presented with a package of VNF, Orchestration, NFVI, and VIM software components, and given a choice of NFVI hardware to run it on.
The third degree goes a step further to decoupling VNF and Orchestration selection from NFVI and VIM software allowing for best-of-breed selection at all levels. This all leads ultimately to the 4th degree of ‘open’ whereby all layers are open and interchangeable, capable of being procured independently, and backed by open source.
With Dell’s approach, and its NFV platform offering, we are enabling degrees two, three, and four.
What have you seen as the top use cases in NFV and what role does Dell play in that strategy?
Baher: We’re seeing a wide-range of use cases, some that the industry as a whole are seeing like vIMS, vEPC, vE-CPE/vPE and some that are unique to Dell’s capabilities. Without a doubt our NFV platform has piqued the interest of many carriers because of its agnostic approach to NFVI , VIM, and ultimately VNF software and its ability to address multiple scaling points. Carriers can deploy a uniform, operationally consistent block of infrastructure and adapting it via software to various use-cases and deployment points. As part of this, Dell offers unique fabric networking and management capabilities that become critical as Openstack environments are scaled both within and between data centers.
We are also seeing interesting use-cases focusing on mobile broadband access and video delivery. Both of these take advantage of our End-User Computing offerings and expertise combined with expertise around VDI, BYOD, and thin-client computing. Much of this, on steroids, builds the framework for carrier based solutions that can be layered on the NFV platform.
And then there’s the whole world of IoT, another area of focus for Dell, and a complement to the NFV platform. But let’s leave that for another interview.
Dell recently outlined five practical steps for progressing down an NFV path–can you recap those for our readers and explain how a service provider can embark on this journey?
- Software-defined enterprise, software-defined carrier…see the similarities, learn from your peers. Virtually every large enterprise, including the IT departments of carriers and cable operators, have virtualized and in many cases consolidated their data centers. At the core of this effort, server, storage, network technologies have been converged and virtualized to increase efficiency and automation. This same set of technology ingredients, and this same effect of virtualization and automation, is the goal of NFV, albeit with a slant towards Openstack and at a much larger scale. Given all this, don’t reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to. Learn from your IT peers and establish common technology ground.
- Establish common vocabulary across organizations. We’ve engaged with a number of carriers where we’ve had members of both IT and Network in the same room. In these meetings, it becomes readily apparent just how critical having a common vocabulary, or at least decoder ring, is. Same technologies, same effects, but one group talks workloads and business continuity, and the other talks services, billing, SLAs. Yet VNFs are just other forms of workloads at the end of the day and availability expressed in different ways yet perhaps measured with the same effect. So the sooner both organizations can establish a common vocabulary, the sooner teams will stop talking past each other, and start working on solutions.
- Create the right organizational dynamic and structure. Two things seem to be a near certainty when it comes to NFV. 1.) Done right it will require a blend of IT and Networking skills, thinking and resources. 2.) No one organizational structure will fit all. It will depend on many dynamics ranging from business model to politics. Regardless, a new blended organization will need to emerge for NFV to be successful and profitable.
- Adopt the right architectures and use-cases. Have a plan for which use-cases are most important to be rolled out and recognize that for each, there will be a unique architecture. Some use-cases will lend themselves to be more centralized, more cloud-like while others are more distributed, and smaller in scale. There will be many drivers behind this but recognize that one size or architecture will invariably not fit all.
- Determine your appetite for “open”. We talked about the four degrees of open up above. Any discussion about NFV would not be complete without a discussion of open and ultimately determining where you as a service provider sit on this continuum from first to fourth degree. It’s not a trivial decision and has many dependencies the least of which is your own staffing capabilities.