NICE, France — Here at the TM Forum Live conference, NEC and Netcracker Technology today launched the Agile Virtual Platform (AVP), a sprawling network functions virtualization (NFV) platform designed to help service providers build and manage new services based on emerging virtualization technology. You could call it NFV as a service — with some DevOps thrown in for good measure. (Note: Netcracker is the U.S.-based subsidiary of Japanese technology giant NEC.)
In a world of plentiful OpenStack offerings and NFV orchestrators, NEC/Netcracker looks to differentiate by “filling the gaps” in NFV, for example by providing integration with operations support systems (OSSs) and business support systems (BSSs). The platform also promises to deliver tools that enable technology vendors and service providers to collaborate on application and service design using a DevOps model.
The components of the AVP include:
- Virtualization Development and Operations Center (VDOC) – An agile development platform that enables partners to collaborate on systems architecture, network planning, and service design and deployment.
- Business Enablement Applications (BEA) – Independent, microservices-based application components, which can be deployed in public, private, or hybrid cloud environments. This includes apps designed to tie into existing BSS and OSS, the IT systems that service providers use to track and bill for services.
- Hybrid Operations Management (HOM) – A network management platform, integrated with the VDOC, that provides management and orchestration (MANO) tools, automated hybrid network management, service assurance, optimization, and network security.
- Primary Systems Integration Practice (PSIP) – A professional services function set up to support and implement AVP and its components.
The AVP is ambitious in its scope and level of functions. One of NEC/Netcracker’s big themes is to push service providers into the business of DevOps to build NFV services in the style of cloud providers. The platform provides tools for building and storing applications in DevOps fashion, using development sprints and scrums. NEC/Netcracker executives said this can help service providers speed up service delivery.
Sanjay Mewada, Netcracker’s VP of strategy, said the primary goal is to get service providers moving faster on NFV. “AVP eliminates organizational barriers with an agile methodology. You speed up the process of deploying a network service offering. You eliminate the waterfall approach of deployment, replacing it with agile development.”
In the days leading up to TM Forum Live, which is a technology conference focused on management software for service providers, NEC/Netcracker executives spent two days explaining the functions and goals of the AVP to analysts, a task that wasn’t easy, considering the number of components.
Parts of AVP resemble some of the more cutting-edge lifecycle service orchestration (LSO) offerings such as Ciena’s Blue Planet and CENX’s Exanova Service Intelligence. But NEC/Netcracker is also packaging AVP’s orchestration and service assurance functions with a development platform, planning tools, and OSS and BSS integration functions.
Even though many parts of NFV are defined by standards – such as the ETSI MANO framework – there are still large gaps in emerging NFV technology standards, as NEC/Netcracker pointed out in its analyst briefings. In our “Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) Market Overview Report,” SDxCentral identified some of these gaps. For example, service providers regularly grumble about the fact that there are few standards for how to connect NFV and MANO to important business technology functions such as OSS and BSS technology, which are responsible for billing customers and keeping track of services.
Positioning the new NEC/Netcracker product line brought some hand-wringing from the pundits. What exactly to call it? NFV Orchestration platform? Professional services? LSO? Cloud NFV? It turns out that AVP is all of this.
“It’s services as a service,” joked Michael Howard, service provider infrastructure analyst with IHS.
The platform does look unique in the industry, where most service provider vendors are providing only pieces of the NFV puzzle – such as modified OpenStack offerings or MANO components such as a virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) and virtual network functions manager (VNFM). NEC/Netcracker has a more ambitious plan to offer the entire package, and to push service providers to overhaul the way they develop services, following the cloud industry in its use of agile development and DevOps.
“We believe the AVP addresses one of the important enablers to realizing the potential of agile business services,” said Patrick Kelly, founder and principal analyst at Appledore Research, after the product briefing. “Many CSPs are still getting bogged down in orchestrating the service chaining of VNFs.”
But are service providers ready to move in such an aggressive and radical fashion? With AVP, NEC/Netcracker is proposing an entirely new way of building services – using its platform. Market analysts here had some questions about NEC/Netcracker’s ability to sell service providers on an entire NFV way of life. The firm says it has customers for AVP, but it has yet to publicly announce them.
Another mystery will be pricing. When I asked NEC/Netcracker how it will be priced, there were no answers. That’s because AVP will likely be sold as a comprehensive menu of personalized software and services, with a different package for every customer. Picture NEC/Netcracker officials going to service providers and saying: “We want to help run your entire NFV services process.”
It’s cutting-edge stuff. Now NEC/Netcracker just has to sell it. Are service providers willing to put most of their NFV into the hands of a technology partner? That appeared to be the biggest question from analysts.
“Innovative technologies either prove to be successful – or not,” said Mark Mortensen, BSS research director with Analysys Mason.