Increased Interoperability: Q&A with Don Clarke, ETSI

NFV’s objectives, why Telecommunications infrastructures require rigorous specifications, and more.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) develops Information and Communications Technologies standards deployed worldwide for fixed, mobile, radio, broadcast and Internet. This role naturally makes this standards organization the holder of a key role in the development of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) technologies. Don Clarke, chairman of the Network Operator Council group in the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group recently responded to e-mailed questions from EECatalog about the first NFV Plugtests Event organized by the ETSI Center for Testing and Interoperability, which will be held from January 23 to February 3, 2017, and other data center and virtualization topics. Edited excerpts follow.

EECatalog: What should our readers be aware of regarding the NFV Plugstests Event being held at the beginning of next year [January 23 to February 3, 2017]?

Don_Clarke_NEW_2016_webDon Clarke, ETSI: ETSI Plugtests are an essential source of feedback to our standardization activities, which allow us to validate and improve the quality of the specifications as they are being developed.

The first NFV Plugtest focuses on testing relevant ETSI Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) capabilities over a number of combinations of NFV infrastructure, Management and Orchestration (MANO) solutions and Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) provided by the industry and Open Source projects. This focus allows ETSI to evaluate and increase the interoperability among vendor and open source implementations.

Besides being a source of essential feedback for ETSI NFV, the NFV Plugtest is also a great opportunity for the industry and open source projects to learn how the rest of the NFV ecosystem uses their implementations.

Many open source communities have emerged to drive NFV implementation. Are standards still needed?

Clarke, ETSI: Open source is an excellent way for the common elements of an implementation to be created collaboratively, and for vendors to focus their individual commercial efforts on capabilities built on top of open source. But Telecommunications infrastructures require rigorous specifications to ensure interoperability and to support legacy services that are deployed at massive scale. Telecommunications networks must also meet numerous regulatory requirements including support for critical national infrastructures. Current open source governance models do not provide these guarantees. Ideally there is a model where Standards Development Organizations (SDOs) developing specifications work more quickly and hand-in-hand with open source communities.

ETSI NFV has led the way in converging and specifying operator requirements (38 operators are involved) and the ETSI NFV work is widely referenced by the industry including open source communities. ETSI consequently established the Open Source MANO (OSM) group in February 2016 to deliver an open source NFV MANO stack using best-in-class open source workflows and tools to ensure rapid development and delivery. The activity is closely aligned with the evolution of ETSI NFV and provides a regularly updated reference implementation of NFV MANO. OSM enables an ecosystem of NFV solution vendors to rapidly and cost-effectively deliver solutions to their users.

How would you say embedded virtualization differs from that used for data centers and enterprise IT networks?

Clarke, ETSI: I prefer to use the term Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). The objective of NFV is to use IT and Cloud techniques, including virtualization and management and orchestration, but to identify and specify additional requirements that will enable these technologies to be used to create “carrier grade” network solutions inside cloud environments. In this context, “carrier grade” means the ability to assure deterministic bandwidth, jitter and latency, and to enable configurations that can deliver the appropriate level of reliability and availability for the services being delivered via the virtualized infrastructure.

In addition, network operators require cloud infrastructures to be “distributed,” that is, extending beyond the data center. For example, instances of cloud infrastructure could be physically located in the access network, and even in the end user premises. Such virtualized infrastructures need to be managed end-to-end, which requires new standards and new tools.

EECatalog: What are some examples you have seen of embedded developers putting virtualization to innovative use?

Clarke, ETSI: We are seeing the early application of NFV to enable high-performance software implementations of network functionality previously only possible using hardware devices for such tasks as routers, firewalls and security monitoring. Implementing these functions purely in software enables automation and faster deployment, including customer self-provisioning.

EECatalog: How do you expect virtualization where the need for real-time response is also involved to look five years from now?

Clarke, ETSI: Achieving automation is key. There is still a lot of work to do to enable network operators to fully automate network design, provisioning and operations. Currently virtualized networks need a lot of manual intervention to design and deploy. This is why early NFV deployments are often in conventional data center environments where existing tools can be used. A key area of focus is to converge information modeling approaches across the industry to minimize complexity and simplify tooling and skill requirements. A collaborative multi-SDO effort is underway to do that.

EECatalog: What technology developments are you keeping especially close watch on?

Clarke, ETSI: The emergence of container technology as an alternative to virtual machines is of high interest. Containers are more resource efficient and faster to deploy than virtual machines, but there is more dependency on the host operating system version, which needs to be taken into account to ensure interoperability.

Today, commercial VNFs are often based on hardware appliances that have been re-purposed to run in a cloud environment. Such re-purposing can be inefficient in use of resources, so we are interested to see VNFs designed from the ground up to be more resource efficient and more optimized for automated deployment and operations.

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