BACKGROUND IMAGE: iSTOCK/GETTY IMAGES
Several vendors have formed the CloudNFV consortium to create prototypes of network functions virtualization while service providers continue to move forward with standardization.
Last year nearly a dozen top network service providers banded together to define the concept of network functions virtualization (NFV). NFV posits that service providers can redeploy many of the network functions that live in large and expensive carrier-grade network appliances as virtual machines on industry standard hardware. NFV promises to reduce both the cost and complexity of service provider networks.
Service providers want their vendors to adopt this approach. To spur action, the Industry Specification Group (ISG) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has started standardizing NFV.
Meanwhile, CloudNFV has emerged on the vendor side to prototype technologies based on these emerging standards, said Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., the network technology consulting firm that is leading the CloudNFV effort.
"Standardization is essential for creating interoperable frameworks for something like this, but standardization doesn't provide an implementation model," Nolle said. "You can't write software from a standard. You've got to have a software implementation architecture. While standards and implementation architecture are obviously related to one another, there are a lot of decisions in implementing something that can also affect interoperability in ways that the people who write standards might not visualize."
Nolle emphasized that CloudNFV isn't competing with the ETSI ISG's work, but rather is trying to support and inform the standardization effort by demonstrating the interplay between the standards and commercial implementation of them.
Five vendors went public with their participation in CloudNFV last week, and each plays a role creating an integrated, multi-vendor prototype for NFV. Dell offers data center infrastructure where the virtual network functions reside. 6WIND accelerates the performance of those functions in a cloud environment. EnterpriseWeb provides software for a data model that describes, orchestrates and optimizes the resources that compose a virtual network function. Overture Networks is providing orchestration software, an SDN controller and metro edge switches to link the WAN with the virtual network functions deployed in a cloud. Qosmos offers network monitoring software that provides network operations insight into how NFV is performing on the network. The IP voice infrastructure vendor MetaSwitch has also reportedly joined the group.
"All these [components] were important from the start because it was our intention with CloudNFV to build a framework that could be deployed globally," Nolle said. "Every operator could stick this in a lab and build a global federation of NFV implementations that could then be used to test and validate different approaches and concepts."
CloudNFV is not an open source project like OpenDaylight. The participants are not creating an open source platform that anyone can build products upon. The vendors are retaining their intellectual property, but they are creating open interfaces between the different components of NFV so all vendors can build to that specification and service providers can deploy multi-vendor NFV with minimal heartbreak.
"We published our integration guidelines on our website and integration is the thing we're principally looking at here," Nolle said. "We're trying to build an expandable framework. We are going to serve as both a model for NFV implementation and also as a source of components of NFV implementation because our architecture breaks up into pieces."
This is important because service providers "aren't keen on a big monolithic [NFV] solution from a single tier-one vendor," said Mark Durrett, director of marketing for Morrisville, N.C.-based Overture. "They would rather see something that is open and has field-replaceable components. If they become dissatisfied with one vendor's solution, they can move on to another one and keep the rest of the infrastructure in place."
CloudNFV is ready to start demonstrating its first NFV prototype, an IP Multimedia Subsystem service. For a group that formed just six months ago, CloudNFV's ability to have an initial prototype so quickly speaks to the power of multi-vendor approaches to NFV, Durrett said.
"We've gone from zero to proof-of-concept demo in six months," he said. "If you look at recent announcements from tier-one vendors of cloud-based NFV platforms, they've spent upwards of $60 million in three years to get this far."