Telecom providers have been around for a long time, and they have a reputation for being fairly conservative. Think five nines. So even though telecoms such as Orange and AT&T are leading the service provider pack when it comes to virtualization, they still bring a conservative mindset.
At today’s inaugural OPNFV Summit in Burlingame, Calif., Philippe Lucas, senior vice president of standardization with Orange, said quality-of-service is critical, and as the company moves the network to more virtualization, it’s important that this quality not degrade in any way.
“If I don’t have Google or Facebook for half an hour or part of the day, it’s not a big deal,” Lucas said during a panel session Wednesday. “But in France, we had a major outage during a switch of government. I can tell you the phone calls to the president of Orange were very quick. These kinds of things don’t work in the telecom networks.”
Margaret Chiosi, distinguished network architect at AT&T, said she doesn’t think it’s that great an idea for each telco to be creating totally unique NFV platforms. She’s also concerned about the splintering within each telco’s network.
“Physical network functions are swinging over to virtual network functions [VNFs],” she said. “Now we’re in this mixed environment. We’re moving our network over to a COTS [commercial off-the-shelf] environment. Data-plane acceleration is a big deal for us. This all collides, and our performance requirements are stringent.”
“Do you need a platform that is five nines or VNFs that are five nines?” Chiosi asked.
Perhaps telcos would rather band together via OPNFV than try to undertake the whole job themselves. “We love OPNFV. We think there are not enough network operators involved,” Orange’s Lucas said.
NFV Ain’t Easy
Creating this NFV architecture “is hard to do,” OPNFV director Heather Kirksey stressed several times during her opening keynote, a point that network operators supported.
Lucera CEO Jacob Loveless, whose company provides connectivity software for financial firms, noted that performance, reliability, and security exist in a triangle, and often code that benefits one leg of the triangle will cause a problem for one or both of the other legs.
“As we’re building and designing these systems, these things are trade-offs,” said Loveless. “The key thing when you’re building software at this low of a level at the stack is it needs to be tunable. You have to start with a good, strong, simple base that you can tune and configure to make these trade-offs.”
Loveless also cautioned that there’s a parallel “container community” growing up: “They’re making assumptions about network connectivity that, if we don’t deliver, will break in un-debuggable ways. Resist features and focus on quality.”
Jeff Mogul, a protocol stylist with Google, seemed to thank his lucky stars that he works for a relatively new company. “We did start with a clean slate,” he said. “[But] we do have service level agreements; we have a cloud business. So the essence is, we do need to get to some number of nines.”
It’s not just about separating the data plane from the control plane, but also about designing the control plane so that it controls the whole network, Mogul said. “We need to manage from a top-down description of the network and manage as one thing.”