Open networking standards and the road to agility, part 7: Open Platform for NFV

Posted by Hans Ashlock May 26, 2015
Open networking standards and the road to agility, part 7: Open Platform for NFV

Initiated in September 2014 by the Linux Foundation, the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) is designed as an open source, carrier-grade reference project for accelerating the development of new services and compatible products. The OPNFV followed close on the heels of the same organization's Open Daylight Project, which began in 2013 with a focus on the control plane of software-defined networking. We examined the OpenDaylight Project in depth in an earlier entry in this series.

The OPNFV has gained plenty of attention in its short life so far. Network equipment suppliers as well as service providers and developers have climbed aboard: Its current ranks include platinum members AT&T, Huawei, Broadcom, Alcatel-Lucent, Brocade and many others, underscoring the broad industry consensus for pursuing an open source path toward NFV.

Here, we'll take a look at some of the project's goals, along with its progress so far. Also, we'll examine some of the potential challenges that may lie ahead, most notably issues with orchestration that could come to the fore because of OPNFV limiting itself to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute's relatively weak specifications for NFV interfaces.

OPNFV has brought together many carriers and technology organizations.OPNFV is designed to promote a reference platform for NFV.

Open Platform for NFV: What are its objectives and raison d'etre?
While NFV still often plays second fiddle to SDN in media coverage, it is becoming increasingly central to the long-term plans of both service providers and their technology suppliers. Indeed, blogging for Silver Peak last year, industry expert Jim Metzler wondered aloud if NFV was at least on the verge of being more hyped than SDN.

He pointed to the efforts of carriers like AT&T and Deutsche Telekom in demonstrating how NFV could simplify network design and management. NFV makes network functions available as virtual, rather than dedicated, appliances, which can be easily provisioned without having to resolve standards differences or worry about which vendor designed the hypervisor, etc.

The launch of OPNFV, with its ambitious goals for shaping the future of networking, is the clearest sign yet of NFV's growing prominence. Initial objectives of OPNFV include:

  • Development of a open source platform for demonstrating core NFV functionality.
  • Promotion of OPNFV as the preferred NFV reference platform.
  • Creation of an NFV ecosystem, with solutions based on open source software and open standards.
  • Contribution to other open source projects that can be used to inform the OPNFV reference platform.
  • Encouragement of participation by leading end users in order to validate NFV's suitability for the entire end-user community.

It is important to note that the OPNFV itself is not developing standards. Instead, it is collaborating with the ETSI Industry Specification Group for NFV on implementation of that body's standards in its own platforms. The open source software development overseen by OPNFV is intended to complement standards creation and refinement by offering a simple, unified codebase that can be readily reviewed for bugs.

So far, OPNFV has focused mostly on planning and organization, with virtually no actual code released to the world. That will almost certainly change in 2015. Chris Price of Ericsson, a member of the respective steering committees for OPNFV and OpenDaylight, cited several projects and conferences that OPNFV members would be contributing to this year. Ericsson itself introduced an OPNFV certification program in October 2014.

OPNFV and network orchestration
The early signs are good for OPNFV. It already has a significant community and its formation comes at an auspicious time, when NFV is entering the spotlight as a critical piece in the future of networking. But could anything hinder its rise?

Writing for Light Reading, Heavy Reading analyst Danny Dicks looked at how OPNFV had approached orchestration. He pointed out that it had limited itself to interface specifications from the ETSI NFV ISG, more specifically to management of virtualized infrastructure and the interfaces between it and the virtual infrastructure manager and virtualized network functions.

"What OPNFV is not looking at, at least in the immediate future, is what happens higher up in the functional block diagram of NFV - and there is just as much confusion over interfaces between NFV orchestrators and VNF managers, operations/business support systems and models of services, VNFs and infrastructures," he explained. "One issue is that different vendors with different portfolios of infrastructure, virtualization technology, management systems and high-level OSS/BSS advocate different ways of pulling things together - orchestration - depending on what they can provide and what their operator customers are asking from them."

"OPNFV already has a significant community and its formation comes at an auspicious time."

He went on to note that the persistence of hybrid physical and virtual environments in operator networks likely necessitated a layered approach to orchestration. The interface between management systems and orchestration in particular will be important to creating an end-to-end service orchestration layer. OPNFV has not taken up this particular interaction so far and it could be an interesting area to watch as the project evolves.

The takeaway: The Open Platform for NFV is a new initiative for promoting the development of a reference project for NFV for use by service providers, technology suppliers and developers on both sides. It is off to a promising start, with many carriers and vendors on board and a certification program set up. Going forward, we should expect to see more actual code coming from OPNFV in 2015. At the same time, keep an eye on how OPNFV works with the ETSI NFV ISG in critical areas such as NFV orchestration.

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