Where are we with NFV?

Author: Derek Kerton, Managing Partner, The Kerton Group / Chairman, Telecom Council

DSC_0473The Telecom Council joined with Hewlett Packard Enterprise again to host another session of our quarterly “thought leaders” series on NFV. The meeting series convenes a small room of 20 participants to dive into two or three concepts of NFV over the course of two hours. About half of the delegates represent telcos, and the other half represent vendors or other stakeholders. Our objective with the meetings are to put some really smart people in the room, represent the ecosystem, and get everyone up to date on NFV, and what their counterparts are thinking.

 

 

This session was hosted by Prodip Sen, who is CTO of NFV at HPE, but eminently qualified to guide the conversation as a result of his Ph.D. in networking, his 25 years inside NYNEX, Bell Atlantic, and Verizon, and his work as founding Chair of the ETSI Group on NFV.  Prodip brought up a number of valuable points throughout the meeting, one of which is that while the “agility advantages” of NFV may be evident, it will take intangible cultural changes at the network operators to migrate towards a virtualized future –not simply a technology overlay.

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NFV technology is moving very fast, so the best practices are changing on a quarterly basis. This time, we discussed how many network operators that first launched into NFV with Proof of Concept trials under ETSI are now getting back results. From the discussion, we learned that the results are positive overall, but they also revealed some of the areas where there are challenges.

Here are some take-aways:

  • Interop remains an issue, but most people thought that perfect interop (the kind promised by firm standards) was elusive in the best of cases, and thus should not be the goal. A reasonable level of interop is a more reasonble target.
  • True, detailed standards take too long. A better approach would be an Open development process, with ongoing “plugfest” work, and more loose de facto standards
  • While not all VNFs need to be interoperable and standards-based, all Orchestration layers should be able to interoperate with all the VNFs under it.
  • Thus, Orchestration, or MANO, is one of the hot areas for additional work and solutions.
  • A Devil’s Advocate challenged the room with the provocative question “NFV is the answer. So what is the question?” Some in the room posited: How do telcos gain the agility they will need to compete with OTT, Google, etc.?
  • If the future is NFV, how do we get there? Answer: baby steps perhaps, but a BIG first step. It doesn’t make sense to just dapple in NFV, as a sensible investment would be amortized over more than one VNF.
  • Network Operators should deply NFV the way startups and Silicon Valley giants deploy technology: get it out there when “good enough” and iterate. This is the way to start the learning and the cultural change that will be needed.
  • CapEx is becoming OpEx

This summary just has fragments of the rich discussion at our quarterly NFV meeting. We will continue our quarterly series of NFV meetings in 2016 as you can see in Telecom Council’s 2016 calendar. To get invited, make sure to join our invitation list.

 

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