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Networks

CableLabs Founding Member of Open Platform for Network Function Virtualization

Don Clarke
Principal Architect, Network Technologies

Sep 30, 2014

Almost exactly two years after a group of 13 network operators launched Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) onto the world stage, there is now another seismic industry shift taking place towards using open source software for networks. Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV), which launched today, is a new open source initiative that brings together the network and software industries to accelerate adoption and interoperability for NFV solutions based on open source. OPNFV will create a reference platform where performance and interoperability of open source NFV solutions will be validated. As one of those involved in the early discussions that led to the creation of OPNFV, I am extremely pleased that we have been able to help bring into existence this new forum. CableLabs hosted the inception meeting for OPNFV at our location in Sunnyvale in June and we are proud to be a founding member of OPNFV. CableLabs’ Director of Advanced Networks and Applications, Chris Donley, will serve on the OPNFV Board.

What is NFV?

NFV is the most exciting development I have seen in my 40+ years in the industry. NFV is a new way to implement network functions as software instances running on industry standard servers. Proprietary hardware appliances will become obsolete except for the most specialized applications. Some examples are illustrated below:

NFV Vision NFV Vision

For the first time network designers will not be limited by the constraints of fixed hardware to design their networks. We have more flexibility to select best-of-breed features; we can deploy them at Internet speed; and we can avoid the nightmare of an accelerating hardware obsolescence cycle driven by consumer devices. At last we can design networks able to adapt in real-time to services demand using industry standard servers that can be loaded with new software on the fly to deliver a different mix of services depending on demand, optimizing equipment utilization while minimizing energy consumption. The ability to implement new types of resilience schemes with almost any fault management capability that can be imagined is particularly exciting. CableLabs is actively involved in the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group (NFV ISG) the leading industry forum driving implementation of these new concepts. The NFV ISG work will be an important reference for OPNFV. NFV enables an unprecedented degree of innovation in the networks space which the industry is only just starting to grasp. I expect a blizzard of startups to appear offering new approaches for every aspect of networking. I’m also participating in an international dialogue with academia to encourage NFV research, and new courses to train the next generation of engineers to be multi-skilled in networks and software.

Why is Open Source Important?

As a long time stakeholder in the traditional telecommunications standards process, it has often been frustrating to have to wait for standards to be agreed before we could get on with trials and start deployment to gain the business benefits from new network technologies. It is even more frustrating when progress is blocked - sometimes for years, by intractable technical arguments or commercial positioning. In today’s fast paced technology-driven competitive world where commercial oblivion could be just one click away, the waterfall approach to bringing in new technology does not work anymore; we need to dramatically speed up and simplify standards development in our industry. In stark contrast, the IT industry has embraced the model of open source, where a community of developers works collaboratively and individually to create pieces of software that can be rapidly and continuously integrated to produce working prototypes and rapidly expose bugs. With the open source approach, specification and implementation occur simultaneously resulting in very fast progress and an open innovation dynamic where everyone contributes to build common features, avoiding duplication of effort and enabling everyone to focus on product differentiation. The openness of this ecosystem guarantees out of the box thinking and a global innovation dynamic decoupled from geography or the companies for whom the developers work. While CableLabs considers open source and formal standards processes to be complementary and we will continue to be actively involved in both, we are increasing our focus on accelerating innovation by using open source to rapidly develop prototypes validating our approaches.

What is CableLabs doing in this space?

CableLabs has been working in the open networking and virtualization space for over two years and we have a number of SDN and virtualization R&D projects in progress on behalf of our MSO stakeholders. In particular, we are working on virtualizing the Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) and customer premises equipment (CPE). As part of those projects, we have a number of our own developers actively developing prototypes which we are contributing to open source projects such as OpenDaylight. For example, CableLabs developed a CMTS plug-in for OpenDaylight that was used by several vendors to demonstrate their SDN and NFV solutions at last week’s SCTE CableTec Expo conference in Denver and that has been incorporated into the OpenDaylight ‘Helium’ release. The vendor-agnostic, non-profit environment at CableLabs is unique and ideally suited to open source development in collaboration with vendors. We have implemented open source reference platforms at our Sunnyvale and Louisville locations and we intend to be an active contributor to OPNFV through both code contributions and vendor-neutral testing.

Don Clarke is a Principal Architect at CableLabs working in the Advanced Network and Applications Group progressing virtualization technologies.

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