NFV basics: A guide to NFV implementation, challenges and benefits
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Overture Networks, a carrier Ethernet infrastructure vendor, introduced new orchestration and control software that service providers can use to replace network services appliances with software delivered via network functions virtualization.
Overture introduced its Ensemble architecture for network functions virtualization (NFV) last year. Now the company is announcing the first products in that architecture -- Ensemble Service Orchestrator (ESO) and Ensemble Network Controller (ENC) -- for NFV orchestration and control.
"This is not just how to spin up virtual network functions, but how to connect them to customers with no forklift [equipment replacement]," said Prayson Pate, Overture founder and chief technology officer. "Service providers want to decouple hardware and software. That's good in theory, but how do you put it back together and deliver services? ESO and ENC unite the virtual and physical worlds."
ESO takes service orders for virtual network functions through a northbound interface that connects into a service provider's back-office systems, higher-level orchestration system or business applications. It translates those service orders into NFV orchestration commands for both the ENC software and an OpenStack cloud controller that comes bundled with Overture's Ensemble software.
The OpenStack controller orchestrates the instantiation of new network functions and services on virtual infrastructure within a service provider's data center or central office.
ENC then sends commands to carrier Ethernet infrastructure in the service provider network, reprogramming the network gear via command-line interface and protocols like Simple Network Management Protocol so traffic is routed to a provider's data center or central office where the architecture can apply the appropriate virtual network functions.
Overture also introduced the first in a series of "turnkey" NFV packages, known as Ensemble Solution Packs (ESP), which customers can deploy on top of the Ensemble architecture. The first ESP is a package that replaces the need for installing customer-premises equipment (CPE) on-site every time an enterprise orders new managed network services, such as firewalls and load balancers. The service pack, virtual managed enterprise CPE (vE-CPE), allows service providers to deploy those firewalls, load balancers and other services in their own data centers or central offices and route customer traffic to those functions.
While service providers are pushing hard for NFV products from vendors, standards around the concept are still developing, particularly at the points where network orchestration and control intersect with a service provider's back-office systems and customer portals.
"All of this is still a work in progress," said Akshay K. Sharma, research director for Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "[The] ETSI [European Telecommunications Standards Institute] is still defining the northbound interfaces for [NFV] orchestration."
Overture is providing only the NFV orchestration and control on the network, Pate said. It has no intention of building software for the virtual network functions. For that, the company will partner with third-party vendors. Overture hasn't yet identified any partners in that area. Many infrastructure vendors who are building an NFV architecture will have to do the same.
"They'll have to partner with a Sonus for session border controllers, or an F5 Networks for load balancers and application delivery controllers, or with BroadSoft for unified communications as a service," Sharma said.
Overture said several tier-one service provides are testing or trialing the Ensemble NFV technology, and those providers are working closely with the company to advance the technology.
"They do have a lot of traction in proofs of concept and trials," said Ron Kline, principal analyst for network infrastructure at London-based research firm Ovum. "But in the end, can they get a large-scale deployment of this stuff going?"
Overture has also indicated that its Ensemble NFV architecture will eventually work with third-party network infrastructure. That integration will be critical to most service providers, Kline said. Overture will need to prove that capability over anything else.
"These networks tend to operate in multivendor environments," he said. "Several of the trials [Overture] told me about are multivendor in nature. You really need to negotiate the interfaces between the controller and those [third-party [elements]. Just because everything is 'open' doesn't' mean it's interoperable."
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