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NFV Phase 2 begins: new leadership, organization, and renewed focus on implementation

By Marc Cohn, Ciena Corporation

While much of the country was coping with sub-freezing temperatures, the ETSI Network Functions Virtualization Industry Specification Group (NFV ISG) convened its 8th and final meeting under its original charter in the desert sunshine in Scottsdale. Intel graciously hosted the meeting, arranging excellent accommodations and hospitality throughout the week.

NFV #8 attendees were treated to a private rodeo by NFV #8 host Intel

NFV #8 attendees were treated to a private rodeo by NFV #8 host Intel

NFV #8 was the first U.S. NFV ISG meeting held outside of Silicon Valley, with no drop off in interest:

  • Number of operators: 37
  • Total number of organizations: 245
  • Number of individuals on the mailing list: > 1,200

After taking the industry by storm (literally)- attendees will never forget the unexpected and rare snowfall in the Cote d’Azur at the very first meeting of the ISG (February, 2013)- NFV Phase 1 successfully concluded, with the ISG achieving its stated objectives and defined work program. In recognition, parties sprung up by most working groups to celebrate their success.

“Operator participants are extremely pleased with the outcomes of NFV Phase 1”, stated Don Clarke (CableLabs), Chair of the Network Operator’s Council. “Few of us could have anticipated how fast this initiative would grow and how influential it would become. As we enter Phase 2, operators’ expectations continue to rise. We are very conscious of the fact that vendors are investing significant resources to develop NFV capability. It is therefore very important to stay focused and maintain our momentum to create opportunities for NFV deployment.”

NFV operators have every right to be proud, as NFV has literally redefined the ground rules for telecommunications technology adoption by:

  • Avoiding the temptation to create new standards- the ISG instead worked to influence existing and emerging SDOs and open source projects
  • Highly collaborative engagement model:
    o Among operators, some of whom are fierce competitors
    o Between operators and vendors
  • Reinventing itself as needed to adapt to the challenges at hand
  • Adopting a pragmatic approach that emphasizes progress over completeness and implementations over technical elegance
  • Capitalizing on a familiar and well-established administrative model that permitted the ISG to concentrate on progress vs. process

ETSI Director General Luis Jorge Romero commented “We are pleased that ETSI could enable the groundbreaking NFV ISG, which successfully forged an innovative standardization cooperation model, built upon assertive goals, pragmatism, lightweight process, and unprecedented collaboration. We applaud the ISG’s phenomenal accomplishments to date and believe that the NFV ISG is already influencing the entire industry.”

After months of planning, guided by the incoming ISG leadership elected at the prior meeting in July, the NFV Phase 2 work program commenced with a general agreement on the objectives and work scope:

  • Grow an interoperable VNF Ecosystem
  • Thoroughly specify reference points and requirements defined in Phase 1
  • Achieve broader industry engagement to ensure that NFV requirements are satisfied
  • Clarify how NFV intersects with SDN and related standards, industry, and open source initiatives

Steven Wright (AT&T), presiding over his first meeting since being elected Chair of the ETSI NFV ISG observed “I remain encouraged by the elevated enthusiasm by operators and partners alike. The NFV community that we have fostered has never been more robust. While we have challenges to overcome, broad industry participation has resulted in a healthy debate on our Phase 2 plans, which are converging as expected.”

In Phase 2, the ISG agreed to disband the existing NFV ISG Working Groups, and approved a new leaner working group structure better suited to the goals for Phase 2. While a healthy debate unfolded regarding the detailed Phase 2 scope and working group inter-relationships, a general consensus emerged, and the work began immediately.

The new working groups will focus less on requirements and more on adoption. Among the key areas that will be addressed include:

  • The ‘ilities’: Stability, Interoperability, Reliability, Availability, Maintainability
  • Intensified collaboration with other bodies
  • Testing and validation to encourage interoperability and solidify implementations
  • Establishment of a vibrant NFV ecosystem
  • Performance and assurance considerations
  • Continued attention to network management and operations, which is of particular interest to
    the Network Operators Council
  • Security

The ISG also elected new technical leaders to guide the NFV technical agenda. Diego Lopez (Telefonica) was re-elected as the Technical Manager, and Joan Triay (DOCOMO) was elected Assistant Technical Manager, succeeding Tetsuya Nakamura (DOCOMO), who was recently elected Vice-Chair of the NFV ISG. Working group leadership will be elected at the next plenary meeting (NFV #9), scheduled for Prague in late February.

“I am pleased that the ISG reiterated their confidence in me as we approach NFV Phase 2”, commented Diego Lopez, Technical Manager for the ISG. “As our goals shift towards implementation and adoption, we will need more detailed specifications, and address functional gaps of the standards we adopt. In order to achieve our goals, it is critical that our working groups remain focused, operate with lightweight processes, and strive for interoperability in everything that we do.”

As the ISG made a seamless transition, with a renewed charter, new leadership, and updated working group structure, the ISG has been energized to pave the way to adoption. Two years of use case assessment and prioritization, requirements analysis, architecture definition, document alignment, and countless conference calls, meetings, and drafts have resulted in a solid baseline for Phase 2.

Tetsuya Nakamura, ETSI NFV ISG Vice-Chair, stated “I am thrilled about the progress we made on the technical baseline in Phase 1, which required a great deal of collaboration and effort. Congratulations to all contributors for their commitment, dedication, and hard work without which, the leap to Phase 2 would not be possible.” Fittingly, Tetsuya, along with Michael Brenner (Alcatel Lucent), Joan Triay (DOCOMO), and Frank Zdarsky (NEC) were recognized by the ISG leadership with a special award for their outstanding contributions to Phase 1.

ETSI NFV ISG Chair Steven Wright recognized Tetsuya Nakamura, NFV ISG Vice Chair for outstanding contributions in NFV Phase 1

ETSI NFV ISG Chair Steven Wright recognized Tetsuya Nakamura, NFV ISG Vice Chair for outstanding contributions in NFV Phase 1

Given the accomplishments in Phase 1, there is increasing optimism that the ETSI NFV ISG will achieve its lofty goal to radically transform the entire telecommunications industry. 2015 is shaping up to be the year of the trial, leveraging over 25 Proof of Concepts, visible strides in product development, and leading edge operators planning for initial deployments.

Interview with Francisco-Javier Ramón Salguero, Telefónica

Francisco Javier Ramon SalgueroIn advance of Carrier Network Virtualization, taking place on 9-11 December 2013 in Palo Alto, California, we caught up with Francisco-Javier Ramón Salguero, Head of Network Virtualization, Telefonica GCTO, Spain, and Chair of the PER Expert Group, ETSI NFV ISG, to find out his thoughts on the growth of SDN and NFV and Telefonica’s plans for the future….

Francisco-Javier, welcome. What are you most looking forward to about Informa’s Carrier Network Virtualization event? 

FJRS: “This event is an excellent opportunity to share views with Industry and with other telcos and to know their first experiences and key progresses.”

Why is the idea of SDN and NFV suddenly taking off now? Why all the fuss?

FJRS: “The need for building a “future-proof network”, built to support a long-term strategic vision and flexible enough to allow for changing requirements, is a common wish for Telco operators.

“The digital world requires both flexibility and agility, and SDN and NFV hold the potential to transform telco networks substantially in this way for the better. This is the reason why the idea of SDN and NFV are being so popular today. Both of them are ideas that telcos have been waiting for a long time.”

Whereabouts in telco networks do you see that SDN and NFV will be of the greatest benefit? Where will we see the first deployments?”

FJRS: “The application of network virtualization can address two fronts. On the one hand, matching with other industry players in those environments where virtualization technologies are already part of the state of the art. Two examples are using SDN technology in telco data centers and using network functions virtualization in those functions intensively associated with the control plane. Network functions that could be first virtualized are those most associated with network intelligence and service platforms (eg IMS, SDP, DNS, UDB, etc.), as they are essentially datacenter-like workloads in our current networks.

“On the other hand, Telco Industry can act as a leader, using virtualization technologies to develop use cases on favourable terms from our competitors. This requires the ability to virtualise network functions that can deal also with the data plane, which is one of our peculiarities (in the end of the day, operator’s business is often based in transporting information). These network features are those normally associated with the IP Edge and the point of presence in general (BRAS, GGSN , SBC , P-GW , etc).”

Are there still any major hurdles you see which SDN and NFV have to conquer before adoption can become widespread? If so, what are they and how should they be resolved?

FJRS: “One of the major challenges of Network Virtualisation (SDN + NFV) is precisely to free the network of the rigidity imposed by physical infrastructure. To achieve this, the idea through NFV is to define a common layer of general-purpose hardware which is ready to support network functions completely defined by software.

“Once a network functionality can be completely defined by software, it is possible to use virtualisation technologies for packaging each network function in one or more virtual machines and decide in which server deploy them.

“However, as simple as it sounds, it is far from being a trivial process. Not everything looks alike to the traditional cloud computing. Allocation of hardware resources for a virtual machine needs to be more careful to assure a high and predictable performance. The challenge of this innovation is just this, to be able to maintain the performance when network functions are purely software. Currently, a number of advances in general-purpose hardware have increased by an order of magnitude the performance, so this is something feasible but still needs to be matured.”

What kind of timescale are we looking at until SDN and NFV become more commonplace in carrier networks across the world?

FJRS: “Only a few companies have commercial products which allow conceive specific parts of the network using these technologies. Almost all the equipment manufacturers are still at testing phases, announcing that NFV products will be launched soon.

“As it stands at the moment, SDN is already something real, implemented and deployed in the world of the major OTTs (like Google), while the Telcos are some way behind. Meanwhile, NFV developments, which arrived on the scene more recently, are still in a pre-commercial phase, with the first rollouts expected sometime 2014.

“Another challenge is that the operators already have a huge number of traditional nodes deployed which are will not be replaced by “commoditised” hardware overnight. That is why consideration is being given to hybrid models, which virtualise some network elements and incorporate the advantages of SDN to improve management. All this transformation is a process that will take years.”

What are your own company’s plans for deploying SDN and NFV?

FJRS: “At this moment, we are working in a trial in Brazil to virtualise part of the equipment installed at customer premises (router, cable TV decoder, etc.), in a concept that we call vCPE (virtualised Customer Premises Equipment). This trial is the result of a prototype developed by Telefónica I+D, with contributions and integration by NEC. The solution makes possible that higher layers functions can be shifted from the client premises to the operator’s network.

“We expect this pilot experience will help us prove the viability of this technology and enable us to implement rollouts in a more flexible and reliable way, obtaining low operating costs.”

What do you expect will be the defining trends within the industry in 2014?

FJRS: “There are numerous experiences being carried out both in the SDN field and in NFV in European, Asian and North American operators. However, it is still unclear when these operators will feel ready to deploy them massively in their network and what are the kind of investments they will need to make. What is clear is the need to work together in the industry (telcos and manufacturers) to define the specific requirements of the networks to ensure that these technologies provide the adequate maturity to support commercial rollouts.

“Manufacturers and telcos alike agree on the need to have a network which is much more flexible and mouldable, and which can be controlled as a whole. Major rollouts are expected to begin in 2015 and 2016, although it is very likely that the first rollouts will be seen sometime in 2014.”

Francisco-Javier will be speaking more about Telefonica’s plans for SDN and NFV on Wednesday morning as part of Carrier Network Virtualization in Palo Alto, California, 9-11 December 2013.

For further information, please visit www.carriernetworkvirtualization.com.