As 2014 winds down, ’tis the season for reflection. Who does not look back fondly on their favorite movie (Boyhood is amazing!), song (“Happy” sticks in my mind), and sporting event (for those of us in Silicon Valley, the Giants winning their third  World Series in five years)?
Substantial Accomplishments in 2014
In the Year of Software, NFV dominated the limelight, with dramatic implications for companies, individuals, and the entire telecommunications industry. Ground zero for NFV continues to be the European Telecommunications Standards Institute Network Functions Virtualization Industry Specification Group (ETSI NFV ISG) — the body that started it all in late 2012.
Throughout the year, the ETSI NFV ISG achieved tremendous progress:
- Significant participation, with 37 operator members (one-third growth in 2014) and over 200 vendors
- On-time completion of the NFV Phase 1 (Requirements) work program, resulting in well-defined NFV use cases, architectural framework, and a solid, end-to-end requirements baseline
- Commenced planning for NFV Phase 2, with a focus on implementation and interoperability
- Seamless transition to new leadership, including a new chair and vice chair
- Highly successful Proof of Concept (PoC) program, with 28 accepted PoC multi-vendor/operator demonstrations, covering 100 percent of the NFV use cases
- Establishment of substantive liaisons with traditional SDOs, and emerging SDN industry groups and open-source projects
- Introduction of the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV), an open-source project focused on developing an open NFV reference platform
“Looking back on 2014, it would have been difficult to envision the phenomenal progress that the NFV ISG achieved in a year’s time,” noted Steven Wright (AT&T), chair of the ETSI NFV ISG. “By exceeding lofty industry expectations for Phase 1, establishing a solid baseline for Phase 2, and sustaining a high level of interest and motivation throughout the ISG, I could not have asked for a better holiday gift.”
NFV ISG’s success can be attributed to several key decisions early on that are yielding major results:
- Maintaining focus on adoption over functionality, completeness over perfection, and inclusiveness
- Encouraging strong operator-vendor collaboration through an open forum
- Intentionally deciding NOT to produce standards, but rather influencing upstream initiatives to address operator needs
- Driving activities through operator use cases, requirements, and priorities
- Leveraging the proven ETSI governance model
Strong leadership also played a major role in the success of the ISG, along with the dedication of the NFV ISG participants, who devoted countless hours to global conference calls and quarterly plenary meetings held around the globe.
NFV ISG Vice Chair Tetsuya Nakamura (DOCOMO) applauded the ISG’s efforts: “Our success is dependent upon commitment and resolve of the ETSI members, NFV participants, and their organizations. Throughout 2014, we were extremely fortunate to rely upon such a dedicated group, without which we would not be where we are today.”
NFV is (rapidly) evolving
In 2015, the NFV ISG is embarking upon the next step in the NFV evolution: NFV Phase 2. Diego Lopez (Telefonica), NFV technical manager, commented: “With a solid architecture, and two years of discussions across a wide range of operators and vendors, we are ready to confront the challenges that lie ahead. We are in the process of restructuring the working groups that were so successful in Phase 1, to address NFV Phase 2, which is centered on implementation and interoperability.”
Don Clarke (CableLabs), chairman of the NFV Network Operator Council shared: “Through the efforts of the NFV ISG, along with internal investigations, individual operators are setting their sights on the use cases where NFV will benefit the business most. As we shepherd the transition to Phase 2, operators are shifting their focus towards how we can operationalize NFV in a multi-vendor environment.”
Introducing Open Platform for NFV
A critical element of Phase 2 is the complementary work under way in the Open Platform for NFV open source project. OPNFV, administered by the Linux Foundation, was launched in late September, and already has 40 corporate members, with active participation from vendors and operators alike. Following the lead of the NFV ISG, which shares many common members, OPNFV is breaking the mold on open-source projects by:
- Ensuring network operators play a prominent role in OPNFV
- Working in close coordination with the ETSI NFV ISG to ensure alignment on use cases and requirements
- Leveraging SDN open-source projects as a starting point, including OpenStack (Orchestrator), OpenDaylight (SDN controller framework), KVM (Hypervisor), DPDK (Data plane), etc.
- Directly liaising with and influencing upstream open-source and standards activities based on experience gained from the OPNFV reference platform
- Fostering an open, vendor-neutral ecosystem guided by the stakeholders with the most to gain: network operators
Prodip Sen (HP), chairman of the OPNFV board of directors, and the first chair of ETSI NFV ISG, observed: “While there is no formal relationship between the ETSI NFV ISG and OPNFV projects, we have many members who participate in the NFV ISG. Both organizations are seeking to break from the status quo to accelerate adoption of NFV. Success will be driven by individuals and companies who participate in these efforts, who are committed to making this happen. We are determined to not let politics get in the way. ”
Early NFV success is not going unnoticed by the vendor community, where industry leaders, new players, and startups alike are responding with a number of innovative offerings including virtualized versions of their hardware-based appliances, and a range of NFV software products from embedded stacks to broad cloud service platforms.
Predictions for 2015
Looking ahead to the New Year, we would be remiss if we did not offer predictions for 2015:
- Orchestration will assume center stage: Whereas 2014 was the Year of NFV, 2015 may very well turn out to be the Year of Orchestration, with many innovative products released. We have received a glimpse of what is to come, with announcements for emerging platforms that enable automation, dynamic services and differentiated business models
- Proof of Concept demos will result in trials: The remarkable success of the NFV PoC program motivated operators and vendors alike to collaborate to validate NFV use cases and requirements. Many were on display at the ETSI PoC Zone showcased at the 2014 Layer123 SDN & OpenFlow World Congress held last October. In 2015, we expect operators to leverage their PoC demos and begin trials in the mobility, residential, and cloud services areas.
- Press releases will yield product releases: Over the past 12 months, vendors issued many NFV announcements, but far fewer actual products. By mid-year, we expect NFV product availability to increase, especially orchestration offerings, and products based on open-source frameworks.
- SDN question no more: Initially, NFV pioneers envisioned NFV as distinct from SDN. The initial NFV white paper (October 2012) depicted NFV and SDN with minimal overlap. Now, many operators’ strategies consider NFV and SDN as inextricably linked. According to version three of the NFV White Paper (October 2014), “Ultimately, NFV and SDN will become less distinguishable as independent topics, being subsumed into a unified software-based networking paradigm.”
- Rise of VNF ecosystems: A number of new NFV ecosystems emerged throughout the past year, driven by vendors large and small. Many are vertically integrated, with partners whose offerings comprise a broad solution. In 2015, horizontally integrated Virtualized Network Functions ecosystems will emerge, offering operators access to a diverse range of VNFs. Clearly it is in the industry’s interest for one or two VNF ecosystems to thrive. Ecosystems that offer open access to all vendors — devoid of competition — have the best chance for success.
- OPNFV influence will expand: In the SDx world, validated use cases and implementations are emerging as vital elements of standards. OPNFV, is projected to rapidly gain momentum, and serve as both a proving ground for open-source projects as well as a forum to influence the industry. Rapid growth in terms of membership (many common ETSI NFV ISG participants), code contributions, and liaisons will rapidly elevate OPNFV to the top of the heap.
NFV is shaping up as one of the most significant initiatives over the past decade (or two). While no one can predict precisely how NFV will unfold, 2015 will prove to be a pivotal year in the NFV evolution, with many new opportunities, competitors, and end users emerging as products begin to surface.
Wishing everyone success on all fronts for the New Year. While predictions are always risky, one thing is clear — 2015 will not be dull.
 *For our friends outside the U.S., we admit that ‘World’ Series is relative. . .