Because of its complexity, NFV has put service providers between a rock and a hard place. They want to evolve their networks to be more software-focused, emulating the agility of the cloud titans. At the same time, they have a long history of delivering five-nines reliability. And they can’t just throw that out the window.
Apparently, there have been some tense meetings between service providers and network functions virtualizaton (NFV) vendors where everything had gone along smoothly, until it’s time for the vendor to sign the big stack of legal documents, agreeing that its virtual network functions (VNFs) will deliver five-nines.
Netcracker, for one, has been talking about this problem for a while. “NFV is too vast and complex for most service providers to implement alone,” wrote Aloke Tusnial, VP of global sales software-defined networking (SDN)/NFV with Netcracker, in a corporate blog. “There are operational and organizational challenges that service providers may not be able to identify or overcome on their own. Systems integrators can shoulder these risks, and use their expertise to help service providers.”
There are three basic levels in the NFV stack as outlined by the ETSI NFV framework. And vendors are helping service providers de-risk some, or all, of these levels, says analyst Paul Parker-Johnson with ACG Research. There’s the management and network orchestration (MANO) level at the top. Then the middle layer deals with the VNFs, themselves. And it’s all built on the foundation of NFVI.
“There are these different layers of capability in terms of taking the risk of going to NFV off the table,” said Parker-Johnson. “You’re really dealing with companies that are attacking that problem from a total solution point of view or pre-certifying. Those are two approaches for de-risking.”
Here are some of companies that have jumped in, to either act as NFV systems integrators, or to offer some kind of one-stop-shop for NFV in an effort to take some of the risk away from service providers:
HPE has a history as a systems integrator, so it was natural for this vendor to create its OpenNFV Partner Program in February 2014. And it also began producing an NFV reference architecture that spans servers, storage, and networking and includes MANO. In addition, HPE created its OpenNFV Solution Portal with a catalog of VNFs from OpenNFV partners. Recently, Samsung joined the partner program as a network equipment provider. Partners in the OpenNFV program have their products tested and validated on HPE’s ETSI-compliant OpenNFV infrastructure. One vendor in HPE’s partner program, Affirmed Networks, also created a joint mobile offering comprised of Affirmed’s mobile packet core along with HPE’s NFVI portfolio.
Masergy was perhaps the first vendor to create an app store for VNFs. It’s Virtual f(n) store (apparently named for the Dilberts of the world) offers VNFs for routers, software-defined wide area networking (SD-WAN), firewalls, session border controllers, WAN optimization, and WAN encryption.
VMware created a VMware Solution Exchange where partner companies can get their NFV products certified to work with two VMware components: its NFVI and its virtualized infrastructure manager (VIM). Some of its partners include Affirmed Networks, Amdocs, Brocade, Ciena, Gigaspaces, A10 Networks, Fortinet, Riverbed, and Viptela. VMware has certified 22 VNFs from 19 vendors. The certification ensures that partner VNFs will interoperate with VMware vCloud NFV.
Nokia has been busy integrating with Alcatel-Lucent, and it has now merged its former Cloud Application Manager (CAM) product with Alcatel-Lucent’s CloudBand. Ron Haberman, GM of Nokia’s CloudBand product unit, said, “We have all the necessary tools for an operator to put together an NFV offering for every use case.” Nokia’s NFV products also support third-party VNFs. “At the heart of how we create the offering, it’s not just different products, but we build an end-to-end solution,” said Haberman.
Ericsson’s NFVi platform consists of both hardware and software. Its Hyperscale Datacenter System 8000 (HDS 8000) and its Blade Server Platform (BSP8000) comprise the hardware elements. Software includes its Cloud Execution Environment, its Cloud Manager, and its Cloud SDN. The company also offers consulting, system integration, and support services. It recently said the modular components of its platform can be deployed in different scenarios, ranging from full decoupling of NFV components from different vendors to a full stack from Ericsson.
Netcracker and its parent company NEC introduced a network-as-a-service (NaaS) offering based on virtualized components from an NFV marketplace. NEC and Netcracker are pitching the NaaS as a way for service providers to expand their relationships with their own enterprise customers beyond just connectivity services. With the NaaS, service providers can offer a bevy of new business-to-business products. And enterprise customers can purchase these services on-demand through a self-service portal.
Tech Mahindra launched a VNF Exchange to help service providers create their own NFV designs that are customized for their networks. The exchange includes VNF stack pre-certification, including underlying hardware, hypervisors, operating system, VNFs, and MANO. Tech Mahindra says the VNF Exchange reduces risk because the products are proven to work together. The vendor also offers services ranging from consulting to system integration. Initial vendor partners in Tech Mahindra’s VNF Exchange include Affirmed Networks, Intel, Oracle, Red Hat, and Rift.io.
GigaSpaces created its Cloud Native VNF Partner Program to help telecom service providers and operators of other large networks sidestep the hurdles commonly faced when implementing VNFs in cloud-native architectures. The program integrates VNFs with the open source Cloudify MANO platform. For its part, Cloudify also continuously adds more VNF providers to integrate their technologies with its MANO platform. Among those VNF vendors: Versa has integrated its virtual CPE (vCPE) and SD-WAN; and Athonet has integrated its vEPC and virtual IP multimedia subsystem (vIMS).
Cisco & Huawei
This list would be incomplete without mentioning Huawei and Cisco. But although both of these companies are deeply involved in NFV for service providers at all layers of the NFV stack, they haven’t announced any branded NFV one-stop products — probably because they’re so big and so familiar to service providers, they don’t have to.
Glen Hunt, an analyst with Current Analysis, says the big telco equipment vendors have an advantage because they work at the NFVI level. So, even if they bring in third-party VNFs or other vendors to handle MANO, they still exercise the most control over the end-to-end NFV system.