2015 was the year in which network functions virtualization (NFV) got some real lift-off, and SDxCentral was right outside this fledgling’s nest, recording its every (adorable?) move.
Strained metaphors aside, by 2020 the combined revenue for NFV, software-defined networking (SDN), and other software-based network initiatives will exceed $105 billion per annum, according to our own 2015 SDxCentral “SDN and NFV Market Size Report.”
But NFV is really new. It only became defined in 2013. In 2015, one of the most-read stories on SDxCentral was “NFV and SDN: What’s the Difference Two Years Later?” The popularity of such stories is evidence that even engineers at major technology companies are scrambling to educate themselves about these new technologies.
The first major stirrings in NFV came in early March 2015 when Telefónica uploaded its own virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) and NFV orchestrator to a Github repository called OpenMANO. Telefónica is offering the code as a way to spur NFV development. This amounts to an open source version of an NFV management and orchestration (MANO) stack, Telefónica claims.
By December, the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) group had expanded its scope to include MANO, setting up the open source project to design a full reference implementation for NFV.
While real work began in 2015 on NFV MANO, our in-house analyst Scott Raynovich made the argument that the MANO model that was set up by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has served its useful purpose. He says real-world NFV management is quickly morphing beyond the constraints of the ETSI diagram.
In terms of the work being done on the virtual network functions (VNFs) themselves, SDxCentral predicted in early 2015 that this would be the year when people started noticing the initial functions aren’t exactly polished and that issues especially arise in OpenStack and Open vSwitch environments.
Sure enough, at SDN & OpenFlow Congress in Germany in October, Axel Clauberg said the cloud VPN service Deutsche Telekom (DT) launched in March “was difficult.” The VPN service is based on OpenStack. Also at the OpenFlow conference, OpenStack came under fire for lagging behind the needs of NFV deployments. If OpenStack can’t do the job, other alternatives could emerge, ranging from proprietary technology to another open source group, such as OPNFV, filling the void.
VMware may have seen these problems with OpenStack coming down the pike. Back in March, David Wright, vice president of operations for VMware’s Telco NFV group, told SDxCentral he doesn’t believe carriers are ready for OpenStack, and a better approach would be to use VMware’s new vCloud NFV. Later in the year, VMware announced new functions for vCloud NFV, which now supports more than 40 VNFs from 30 different vendors.
A lot of NFV activity is happening in Europe, led by providers such as DT and Telefónica. DT is transitioning its European network to all-IP, laying the groundwork for NFV, and Telefónica is implementing its Unica project, a network makeover centered on NFV.
In the United States, AT&T was prominent in 2015. AT&T advanced its Network on Demand project, which uses NFV to create faster on-demand services. It named some specific vendors it’s working with, including Brocade, Cisco, and Juniper Networks, which are helping the carrier with virtual routers, virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE), and other VNFs. AT&T is also making the lowest layers of its network more flexible, which it calls “pushing NFV down the stack.”
This revamping of Layers 1-3 of networks was a trend in 2015. The logic is: In order to move quickly with their SDN and NFV goals, operators’ entire networks need to be more agile, including the lower layers of the OSI model.
Lastly, 2015 saw a couple of companies create portals to promote VNFs. Masergy launched its Virtual f(n), which it compared to a mobile app store for enterprise customers with products such as virtual routers and firewalls. And Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) went live with its OpenNFV Solution Portal, providing communications service providers access to a catalog of more than 60 VNFs from its HPE OpenNFV partners. HPE ended the year on a sour note, though, as Telefónica reportedly dropped the vendor from its NFV plans.
If there was one thing frequently mentioned at conferences and in interviews in 2015 it was how fast NFV technology is moving. This market is maturing fast, and 2016 could be the year NFV really flies.