Vendors are out to claim territory in network functions virtualization (NFV), and the mobile network is likely to be an early proving ground for the concept. That’s why NFV has been a hot topic of discussion leading up to the start of Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, and more companies are declaring NFV plans as the show opens Monday.
HP, in particular, is gunning to build a broad NFV ecosystem with its own market presence as a center of gravity. Wind River and Broadcom are among the companies that have also expressed interest in beefing up the ecosystem, trying to rally vendors around the cause of making the technology happen more quickly for carriers.
Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent have already announced the NFV progress they’ll be showing off at MWC: See Ahead of MWC, Ericsson Gears Up for NFV and Clouds and Alcatel-Lucent Puts NFV into the Mobile Network.
But HP might have the most ambitious plan so far, announcing Monday that it’s trying to create an entire NFV ecosystem, the OpenNFV program. The company’s MWC stand will also host demos of all nine approved ETSI NFV proofs-of-concept (PoCs). That includes one fixed-line use case that HP isn’t even involved with.
HP Takes On the Whole Ecosystem
A key aspect of OpenNFV involves offering HP’s labs as a sandbox for carriers and equipment vendors to test and validate NFV applications. They’ll be able to run software on an ETSI-compliant architecture built of HP gear.
That can be a substantial early step for carriers, letting them solidify new ideas before taking them back to their own labs. “It’s sort of something trusted. There’s a safe pair of hands” helping with development, says Werner Schaefer, HP’s vice president of NFV.
HP is also producing an NFV reference architecture that spans servers, OSSs, storage, and networking, among other pieces.
It’s that breadth, and a history of working with carrier-grade requirements, that makes HP suited for leading this kind of ecosystem, Schaefer says. HP also claims to have worked on the first NFV project, a broadband remote access server (B-RAS) for BT Group two-and-a-half years ago.
And of course, HP has a shot at gathering other companies to help with OpenNFV. “We believe we already have the right players — I wouldn’t say ‘in our corner,’ but we’ve had established business relationships with them,” Schaefer says. “We believe that will lend a lot of credibility to our ecosystem.”
Wind River’s NFV Server
Wind River, meanwhile, is announcing the Carrier Grade Communications Server, a platform designed for NFV hosting. The idea is to turn a server into a box that’s ready to accept NFV applications.
The trick there is to make the server carrier-grade. Along those lines, the CSGS includes:
- Wind River Linux
- Wind River’s Open Virtualization
- the KVM hypervisor
- carrier-grade enhancements to OpenStack
- virtual-switch technology from Intel‘s data-plane development kit (DPDK).
Like HP, Wind River cites a history of working with service providers as a reason to be trusted as the cornerstone of an NFV ecosystem. And, like HP, Wind River uses BT’s early NFV experiments as a reference. Maybe it’s fitting that Wind River also has announced Wind River Linux as other software products are being certified for HP’s ProLiant servers.
Wind River’s point is that the platforms for NFV need help developing. Carriers’ early proofs-of-concept were built on enterprise equipment that lacks the reliability and other features that carriers are accustomed to.
“Often times, [carriers] are aligned based on business units rather than on the vendor chain,” says Glenn Seiler, Wind River’s vice president of networking. “The supply chain can be very different in this kind of model. It’s not very organized yet.”
Seiler expects to see something like a white-box model emerge, where carriers would buy generic servers (carrier-grade of course) and load their own software onto them. But that model “hasn’t taken off yet,” he says.
NFV at the Chip Level
Meanwhile, Broadcom announced its NFV ecosystem plans Thursday, noting that it wants to help make it possible to migrate virtualized network functions (VNFs) from one system-on-a-chip (SoC) platform to another.
Broadcom is calling this “Open NFV,” probably referring to HP’s OpenNFV effort. (HP’s Schaefer is quoted in the Broadcom press release.)
Broadcom’s Open NFV would presumable include porting designs to and from the Intel x86 instruction set, although that possibility wasn’t specified in Thursday’s release. Broadcom did talk about its partnership with ARM, which makes sense considering Broadcom’s general-purpose networking processors use the ARM instruction set.
One of the ETSI PoCs involves that migration between chip architectures, and Broadcom will be showing a demo of that at MWC.
Check out other NFV coverage and information on SDNCentral’s NFV topic page.
(Photo: Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via, home to MWC. Source: Wikimedia.)