Latest from the SDN-NFV World Congress: Where the Rubber Meets the Road

By Javier Guillermo October 31, 2019

We just had another two major events, The Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles and The SDN-NFV World Congress in the Netherlands. These events focused on SDN, NFV and 5G technologies, which I have been covering in my InFocus blogs for the past few years.

In accordance, my colleagues have been asking me several questions.

What are the latest and greatest products and ideas that are emerging? What are pioneers doing to push these technologies to the next level? Is the forecast given at the beginning of the year for adoption and industry trends still valid?

One point where we can all agree is that the SDN-NFV World Congress keeps growing in the number of members, companies and service offerings. We can all debate if the adoption of these technologies has lived up to the expectations set 5 years ago, surpassed them or has fallen behind (for example, Gartner thinks the technologies didn’t live up to expectations and it is time to move to something else – I disagree), but it is clear they are here to stay over the next decade.

I’ll summarize the main takeaways from the events and most important developments and tie them to topics in my previous InFocus blogs.

Let’s get started!

Open Source Standardization Galore: Focus on Orchestration, Automation and VNF Lifecycle

One of the major themes throughout The World Congress event is the push for standardization. I’ve been long discussing that one of the weakest points in NFV technology is in the upper layers (orchestration, Lifecycle of VNFs and Automation), while the lower layers (white boxes and NFV-I managers) are pretty standardized. The latter happens to be one of the major open source initiatives in this area that I haven’t yet covered.

Dell Technologies and pretty much every major vendor and Telco provider is a member of the Congress in different capacities, including CNTT which stands for the Common NFVI (Network Function Virtualization Infrastructure) Taskforce. The main goal of this organization is to push common standards forward in the NFV world, and in particular, establishing a lifecycle framework which will set an open-sourced end-to-end ecosystem to deliver, maintain and continually improve the infrastructure delivery lifecycle. CNTT is working with a multitude of vendors on establishing reference models, reference architectures and reference implementations, each one built on the foundation of the former.

Figure 1 Source: The Linux Foundation

This framework is something that is sorely needed, as a telco customer can have a multitude of different VNFs from different vendors but may not have a common orchestrator that efficiently manages all the functions for the lifecycle management of the VNFs. Part of the problem we’ve always had with the upper layers is that there was never a very clear functional demarcation on the MANO layers such as NFV-O and VNF that created diverse implementations an approach to handle the issue at hand.

Figure 2 Source: The Linux Foundation

Don’t get me wrong, I think ETSI did a fantastic job layering up the foundations on the operational architecture and especially on the lower layers. The upper layers are more complex and the actual implementation details were left to the vendors. The following figure shows the functions of a VNF circle of life, and no, they don’t have a lot in common with Elton John’s song for Disney’s The Lion King!

Figure 3 Source: ETSI

Most of these functions are self-explanatory, except maybe Healing (in VNF terms, this means a failure, and the controller/orchestrator will take whatever action is programmed for that eventuality) and Monitoring (checking the health of the VNF doesn’t relate to fever but toCPU, network, memory usage, access to disk, etc.).

The other related story mentioned by pretty much every single vendor is automation. At this point in late 2019, everybody agrees that it is not just something nice to have any more to save time and OPEX; it is a necessity due to the increasing complexity and scale of all the array of next-generation technologies that are leading the fourth industrial revolution (IoT, 5G, SDN, NFV, etc.).

In other words, without some form of automation, we won’t be able to fully implement these technologies into production. This is, of course, a topic where we could have another blog series and write several books about it. And the good news is that everyone agrees on the necessity of it; the bad news is the lack of standardization on tools and processes.

SD-WAN All Over the Place

We covered SD-WAN in detail as the most commercially successful application of SD-WAN technology and it is remarkable how in less than 5 years, we have gone from a technology outside of the networking industry no one had ever heard off, to pretty much every major network provider having some form of it (CSP, having an offering of their own).

What are the major updates in SD-WAN then?

Number one is the standardization of SD-WAN v.2.0 and number two is the appearance of SD-WAN as a service. What is the former exactly? It depends on which vendor you ask – we truly don’t have a standard framework defined by a foundation like ETSI, which covers the exact definition. But everyone seems to agree it’s an evolution that includes a lot of security features, increases granular control/visibility, and offers more automation and better management though a centralized dashboard.

The latter, SD-WAN as a service, can’t come as a surprise as we have been moving from PaaS, to SaaS and now to XaaS. SD-WAN as a service or SDWaaS is just the latest service to be moved to the cloud. Of course, you will still need to have some white box devices at customer premises, but you can move the management and security functions to the cloud. This allows some advantages e.g. all access designs though one portal, seamless processes, end-to-end orchestration, more automation.

The Growth of DSPs All Over the Place

I think the best definition of a Digital Services Provider (DSP) is the one given by the MEF: It is the entity which enables enterprise consumption of multiple services though a single interface with a seamless digital experience, which contrasts with traditional Communication Services Providers (CSP). DSP don’t “own” the network equipment that connects/points User A to connects/points User B. Instead they offer their services over the CSP infrastructure. These services exist in entertainment – movies, music, videogames (think of Netflix, Disney digital, CBS all access, Apple + TV, Google Stadia) to VoIP/messenger tools (Whatsup, Skype, etc.) to all the many enterprise applications.

In this area we see more and more money being poured in, new services being deployed and traditional CSPs buying media companies/DSPs to compete in this changing marketplace.

Summary: 5G, Containers and the Virtualization Evolution

Two last items I want to quickly touch on are: Firstly, how containers are everywhere you go and clearly, the next step on the virtualization evolution (I won’t extend on this idea because we already have a separate blog series covering containers) and secondly, how strongly I believe that both SDN and NFV adoption rates will skyrocket as the 5G deployments go from trials/testing in selected cities to mass adoption – that’s something we will see exploding in 2020-2022. There is a survey by HIS Markit, where 70% of SP were targeting 15 out of 18 network domains and 88% were already doing NFV deployments in production.

See what I mean about exploding?

Stay tuned for more discussion on these exciting times in technology!

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