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Network and Service Management – The Missing Piece for NFV

Don Clarke

By Don Clarke, Principal Architect, Network Technologies

Jan 12, 2017

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) enables telecommunications networks to be implemented in software running on high volume industry standard servers as outlined by network operators in a seminal white paper published in 2012. NFV standards have been under development in the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group since the early part of 2013. The ETSI NFV work provides the foundation for NFV and is being referenced by standards organizations globally, and new open source software communities have sprung up to accelerate NFV implementation. I’ve written about industry progress on NFV in previous blogs but we still have some way to go before NFV is commonplace in telecommunications networks.

The key pieces of NFV, notably Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) run on industry standard compute platforms – basically datacenters; and must be dynamically configured and connected at scale to deliver tangible value; automation is absolutely vital for success. Cloud players such as Amazon and Facebook have mastered automation within the confines of their proprietary datacenters, and as a result their operations require orders of magnitude fewer people. New products and services appear at the speed of code, and customer self-service is taken for granted. Concepts that exploit automation such as Machine Learning are being applied which is supercharging the ability of cloud operators to optimize their systems and create cool new stuff. We in the telecoms industry need to also become masters of automation or we will be left behind in the inexorable march to a software defined future.

While the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group has worked very hard on the “nuts and bolts” of NFV with a keen eye on automation (in my book the most important benefit of NFV), the industry hasn’t made much headway on the key pre-requisite: automation of the Operations environment. Collaboration to address this essential capability is vitally important for the industry to remain competitive and deliver what our customers need in the future.

Information Modeling and Network Automation

Two very important industry initiatives are underway that will accelerate progress. The first initiative is to harmonize information modeling approaches across the telecoms industry (standards and open source). Unless Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) in the different network domains align their information modeling approaches, network operators will have to deal with an ever increasing degree of complexity as they seek to create new networks and services based on NFV. The second is a new industry-wide effort to foster collaboration on Networks and Service Management.

Towards achieving these goals, in January 2016, CableLabs hosted the first multi-SDO and Open Source workshop on Information Modeling which was widely regarded as the moment when the industry realized the value of harmonization. Aligning Information Modeling approaches is a critical first step to achieving network automation (see the blog by my colleague Tetsuya Nakamura). Information models are the “templates” needed to orchestrate compute resources into a meaningful configuration. In the cloud environment, these templates are used routinely, and we need to use them as well, but unlike cloud operators who work in a proprietary, mostly homogeneous environment, telecoms network operators work in a heterogeneous environment spanning many different network domains and referencing standards coming from many different SDOs. Applying cloud technologies in such an environment is extremely complex. Fortunately, SDOs and Open Source communities have recognized this challenge and an unprecedented era of cross-industry collaboration is getting underway.

Multi-SDO Collaboration is not simple, or it would be routine. The first barrier is the focus of individual SDOs on a narrow domain. Other barriers are culture and modus-operandi, and leadership teams motivated by agenda and timelines specific to their domain. Not to mention the dreaded IPR which can stymie even the most worthy of collaborations.

Second Multi-SDO Information Modeling Workshop

To build and maintain momentum, Deutsche Telekom hosted the second Multi-SDO Information Modelling workshop in Bonn-Germany last month. I co-chaired the event with Klaus Martiny at Deutsche Telekom and Michael Brenner at GigaSpaces, and my CableLabs colleague Tetsuya Nakamura played a key role in organization. The workshop dovetailed with another milestone event, the first cross-industry workshop on Networks and Service Management organized by Deutsche Telekom which addressed the broader challenges for automating telecoms networks.

Participants from the following organizations presented their views on harmonizing information modeling:  3GPP (SA5), ARIA, Broadband Forum, ETSI NFV, IETF, IISOMI, ITU-T, MEF, NGMN, OASIS/TOSCA, ONF, OSM, OPEN-O, ON.Lab/CORD, and TM-Forum.

The discussions were intense and extremely positive. Clearly the spirit of collaboration and a sense of common purpose are as strong now as they were after the CableLabs hosted first workshop which bodes well for maintaining momentum on alignment. Follow-up collaborative activities are structured around a set of key topics which we identified as high priority to be addressed with named owners from different organizations who will be accountable for progress. A public WiKi has been created for anyone to follow progress. Activities include:

  • Looking at Federated Information Models as a way to get to a Common Information Model.
  • Aligning nomenclature amongst the different organizations in relation to Information Modeling and Data Modeling.
  • Collecting Use Cases and Business Requirements as a way to bind the effort towards a practical goal.
  • Creating and maintaining central repositories for the numerous information models and data models in use across the industry together with descriptive meta-data and open source tooling.

Achieving harmonization is vitally important for the industry to enable automation of the NFV operations environment so we are setting an aggressive timescale to build momentum through 2017.

What CableLabs is doing in this space

We have a number of activities around NFV and SDN that we are executing on behalf of MSOs. For example, CableLabs is progressing an intensive study of virtualized provisioning of the cable access network to enable programmability, our NFV/SDN reference platform is based on OPNFV and we are looking ahead to support 5G using an end-to-end virtualized architecture that includes low latency edge compute nodes located at the cable head-end. In addition, we are seeking to accelerate NFV/SDN interoperability through our subsidiary Kyrio which has built an interop lab where vendors can work together with operators to validate interoperability for their SDN and NFV solutions.

The NFV journey is only just beginning and 5G will be the first new wave of technology to be designed from the ground up using NFV and SDN technologies. The cable industry, with our low latency access network, is in a leadership position to advance these technologies for the benefit of MSOs and their customers globally.