Solving the NFV/SDN Adoption Puzzle: the Missing Orchestration Piece(s)
Solving the NFV/SDN Adoption Puzzle: the Missing Orchestration Piece(s)
Posted by Pascal Joly April 20, 2018
Quali was sponsoring the MPLS/NFV/SDN congress last week in Paris with its partner Ixia. As I was interacting with the conference attendees, it seems fairly clear that orchestration and automation will be key to enable the wider adoption of NFV and SDN technologies. It was also a great opportunity to remind folks we just won the 2017 Layer 123 NFV Network Transformation award (Best New Orchestration Solution category)
There were two main types of profiles participating in the Congress: the traditional telco service providers, mostly from Nothern Europe, APAC, and the Middle East, and some large companies in the utility and financial sector, big enough to have their own internal network transformation initiatives.
Since I also attended the conference last year, this gave me a chance to compare the types of questions or comments from the attendees stopping by our booth. In particular, I was interested to hear their thoughts about automation and the plans to put in place new network technologies such as NFV and SDN.
The net result: the audience was more educated on the positioning and values of these technologies than in the previous edition, notably the tight linkages between NFV and SDN. While some vendor choices have been made for some, implements and deployment them at scale in production remains in the very early stages.
What's in the way? Legacy infrastructure, manual processes, and a lack of automation culture are all hampering efforts to move the network infrastructure to the next generation.
The Missing Orchestration Pieces
NFV Orchestration is a complex topic that tends to confuse people since it operates at multiple levels. One of the reasons behind this confusion: up until recently, most organizations in the service provider industry have had partial exposure to this type of automation (mostly at the OSS/BSS level).
Rather than one piece, NFV orchestration breaks down into several components so it would be fair to talk about "pieces". The ETSI MANO (Open Source NFV Management and Orchestration) framework has made a reasonable attempt to standardize and formalize this architecture in layers, as shown in the diagram below.
At the top level, NFV orchestrator interacts with service chaining frameworks (OSS/BSS) that provides a workflow that includes procurement and billing. a good example of a leading commercial solution is Amdocs. At the lowest level, the VIM orchestrator provides deployment on the virtual infrastructure of individual NFVs represented as virtual machines, as well as their configuration with SDN controllers. traditional cloud vendors usually play in that space: open source solutions such as Openstack and commercial products like VMware .
In between is where there is an additional layer called VNF Managers necessary to piece together the various NFV functions and deploy them into one coherent end to end architecture. This is true for both production and pre-production. This is where the CloudShell solution fits and provides the means to quickly validate NFV and SDN architectures in pre-production.
Bridging the gap between legacy networks and NFV/SDN adoption
One of the fundamental obstacles that I heard over and over during the conference was the inability to move away from legacy networks. An orchestration platform like CloudShell offers the means to do so by providing a unified view of both legacy and NFV architecture and validate the performance and security prior to production using a self-service approach.
Using a simple visual drag and drop interface, an architect can quickly model complex infrastructure environment and even include test tools such as Ixia IxLoad or BreakingPoint. These blueprint models are then published to a self-service catalog that the tester can select and deploy with a single click. Built in out of the box orchestration deploys and configures the components, including NFVs and others on the target virtual or physical infrastructure.
Winning this award was a significant achievement for Quali. Telco decision makers attending the award diner at the Gemeentemuseumden Haag last week were also paying attention.
As new networking concepts such as SD-WAN and NFV are picking up steam, there is a growing awareness among Service Providers that building a standard approach to the consumption of development and test environment is key to sustainable certification and innovation. That means not only getting fully on board with Automation and DevOps from a process standpoint, but adopting Orchestration solutions that meet the very specific needs of the industry vertical.
Shifting Factors in the Telco industry are opening doors for accelerated innovation
Applying a DevOps approach in the Telco industry is relatively new. Up until recently the development cycle had traditionally followed a multi-month (or year) release pattern quite remote from webscale companies leading the way such as Netflix and Airbnb. Certainly a service provider has to deal with regulatory constraints in terms of uptime and the delivery of services. However the dynamics are changing. Several driving factors are at play:
Business mandate to sustain innovation: This is a matter of survival for telcos. keeping a competitive advantage when the boundaries of delivering network services are no longer solid.
Software Defined as a change agent: no just Software Defined Networking but in general the ability to commoditize the underlying infrastructure and overlay software based intelligence on top.
Automation takes center stage: now that software based technologies are prevalent, continuous updates through automation and orchestration can become reality for the network tester.
Making DevOps Automation a reality for Service Providers: not as simple as it seems
Making DevOps a reality for the network engineer and tester responsible for validation of new SD-WAN and NFV technologies is easier said than done.
To begin with, there is a mismatch expectation on skills: network engineers are not programmers (for the most part) so they need to be exposed to the proper level of resource abstraction for an effective implementation.
In addition, quite often, efforts to apply general compute based automation approach to industry specific challenges, such as NFV on boarding, have been stopped on their tracks. The complexity of software based network environments makes the translation non trivial. Instead of reaping the benefits and agility of software based approach, it merely compounds problems seen with physical based environments with additional challenges tied to virtual workloads . In the best cases, this leads to a successful (and well publicized) small scale pilot on a greenfield project, that never reaches full production at scale and expected ROI.
A Practical Approach to Network Orchestration
Taking a practical approach to network orchestration, Quali's CloudShell combines the power DevOps automation with the flexibility to provide on demand, dynamic environments to meet the inherent needs of service providers.
A network designer can create visual blueprints to model the various network infrastructure scenarios based on the TOSCA standard for certifying NFV/SD-WAN roll out.
These environments, or "cloud sandboxes" can then be deployed from a self service portal to virtual or physical resources and accessed by the tester through a web interface for a simple interactive experience, or through API using modern CI/CD tools such as Jenkins.
Out of the box orchestration takes care of workload deployment, configuration and connectivity setup. Similarly, automated resource reclamation provides control on cost and resource allocations to large teams of users.
Extensibility provides a way to customize the experience based on what is most relevant for the end user and sustain the automation in the long run: when it comes to technology, there only one constant: change.
Quali is the industry leader in delivering cloud-agnostic Environment as a Service (EaaS) solutions for development and testing, sales demo/POC, training, and cyber range teams. Global 500 OEMs, ISVs, financial services, retailers, and innovators everywhere rely on Quali’s award-winning CloudShell platform to create self-service, on-demand environments that cut cloud costs, optimize infrastructure utilization, and increase productivity.