In advance of Network Virtualization & SDN World in London on 27-30 May 2014, we caught up with Francisco-Javier Ramón Salguero, Head of Network Virtualization, Telefónica GCTO, Spain and Chair of the PER Expert Group, ETSI NFV ISG, to find out his thoughts on the SDN and NFV industry in 2014.
Francisco-Javier, what would you say has had the largest impact in terms of progressing SDN and NFV in telecom networks to date?
[FJRS] Beyond individual company achievements that we have been seeing over the past months, I would say that the biggest game-changer for the industry was the foundation of NFV ISG, where a significant number of network operators gave a clear message to the industry.
This message was so clear and difficult to ignore that it helped everyone to focus and start working on the development of Network Virtualisation technologies with no hesitation, and with the only limitation of technological readiness. At Telefónica, we are quite proud of being part of the initial core group that seeded the creation of this industry initiative, and we are already thinking on.
2) Do you feel that the industry is making as much progress towards implementing SDN and NFV this year as you would like?
[FJRS] Indeed. In fact, this year we are seeing the explosion of Proof-of-Concepts for Network Virtualisation, covering literally every potential use case that you might conceive in a network. Only in the framework of NFV ISG, there are already 18 running PoCs (and rising!)… and they are only the tip of the iceberg, since it is expected that there are a bigger number of company PoCs that are happening behind the scenes.
3) How is your company contributing to the realisation of SDN and NFV at present?
[FJRS] As you probably know, Telefónica has been and will be quite active on the evolution of network virtualisation technologies. We started over five years ago working on R&D and lab experiences, and two years ago we boosted the maturation of these technologies promoting their standardization, being one of the founding members of ETSI’s ISG NFV at late 2012.
Right now we are focusing on two key areas:
Firstly, we are working with our operating business to launch new network services that were inconceivable before these technologies were available. 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 that this pilot experience – that will be finished during this very year – 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.
Secondly, we are working on the development of a real and working reference platform for NFV in collaboration with the industry. We have recently launched this NFV Reference Lab, where key players from industry are already engaged. This Telefónica NFV Reference Lab aims to host an agnostic reference architecture available for validation and certification of network functions that Telefónica intends to acquire or evaluate, as well as to validate and to certificate NFV resource management modules. One key part of this effort is that the evolution of underlying virtualisation technologies will be based in existing open source elements (KVM, Libvirt, OpenStack…) and will be contributed back to the upstream community, in order to avoid fragmentation or the creation of a tailored architecture for the basic NFV pieces (NFVI and VIM, mainly).
4) What do you think are the biggest hurdles towards implementing SDN and NFV at present, and how can they be overcome?
[FJRS] In order to grant the success of this new network model, it is essential to avoid vertically integrated and/or proprietary monolithic solutions, where HW, hypervisor, VIM, and orchestrator need to come from the same vendor. This would lead to closed and non-interoperable environments, compromising the evolution of these technologies, since their lei motif is the effective decoupling of HW, SW, and management from the network function. Thus it is essential to work on a target network architecture which can be gradually built from the most adequate building blocks that the industry can offer. The effort must be enhanced in this way and this requires changing the mindset of many players in the industry, including us, the operators. In this new phase that we are about to enter, everyone will need to get out of their comfort zones and learn to play according to the rules of opener communities.
5) Which areas of the network do you think should be prioritised for virtualization, and why?
[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 and the delta for their deployment in an NFV environment is relatively small. Two examples of these kinds of quick-wins are the usage of SDN technology in telco data centres, and the adoption of an NFV approach in those network functions mostly associated with the control plane. Network functions that could be first virtualized are those most associated with network intelligence and value added service platforms (eg IMS, SDP, DNS, UDB, etc.), as they are essentially datacentre-like workloads in our current networks.
On the other hand, the telco industry can and should act as a leader in other fronts, using virtualization technologies to develop use cases on favourable terms. This requires the ability to virtualise network functions that can also handle the data plane, which is one of our peculiarities (in the end of the day, operator’s business is mostly 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.)
6) What are your expectations for the development of SDN and virtualization in telco networks in coming years?
[FJRS] The high-level challenge, which is a common wish from telco operators, is building a “future-proof network” capable of supporting a long-term strategic vision and flexible enough to adapt to the quick changes in end-customer needs and preferences. 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. I think that manufacturers and telcos converging on the need to have a network which is much more flexible and mouldable, and which can be controlled as a whole.
You can hear Francisco-Javier talking about both latest developments within the ETSI NFV ISG and also outlining Telefónica’s own strategy for SDN and NFV at Network Virtualization & SDN World in London on 27-30 May 2014. The event is free to operators. For further details and to register, please visit www.sdnworldevent.com.