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How to meet the challenges of NFV orchestration

Orchestration challenges are slowing NFV adoption, with a number of factors hindering deployments. Expert Lee Doyle explains and offers advice for service providers.

Orchestration plays a key role in the deployment and operation of virtualized applications in a telecommunications...

network. Standards organizations, such as ETSI, have developed frameworks for network functions virtualization (NFV) management and orchestration. Operationalizing orchestration software, however, especially in multivendor software deployments, has challenged leading communications service providers who face picking a vendor-specific orchestration framework or, in many cases, internally developing their own flavor of NFV orchestration.

NFV orchestration is the process of automating deployment and provisioning of multiple network software components. Orchestration creates a recipe for deployment of a specific service or services. That recipe includes:

Why orchestration is critical to NFV adoption

The process of virtualizing one network function -- e.g. a router or firewall -- is relatively straightforward. The key benefits of NFV, however, come when providers have the ability to service chain a number of VNFs -- in conjunction with physical network elements -- to deliver a service to a business or consumer. The challenge in NFV orchestration is to deliver the following capabilities across multiple VNFs from different suppliers:

  • Configuration, provisioning and chaining of virtual network functions, in addition to other resources required for the service.
  • Automated selection of an optimal physical platform on which to place the VNFs, with regard to key variables including latency, performance and cost. VNFs can run on different physical assets in various locations -- data center, network point-of-presence or customer premise.
  • Dynamic and elastic scaling of services. For efficient operation and lower cost, the orchestrator maps the instantiation of VNFs according to real-time demand.
  • Lifecycle management of the VNFs, including creation and health monitoring.

Implementation challenges

Immaturity of products and lack of standards are key inhibitors to NFV orchestration deployment. Orchestrators place a key role in the network and must be highly reliable and secure and link to providers' existing element management systems and OSS and BSS. The sheer number of standards bodies -- including ETSI, OPNFV, MEF, IETF, OpenDaylight and OpenStack -- working on NFV, and orchestration, create complications for operators. For example, OpenStack has an orchestration framework, but is generally not considered carrier-grade and must be enhanced for provider deployment.

NFV orchestration options

In addition to the option of internal development, providers have a large number of NFV orchestration products to choose from, including:

Other NFV orchestration suppliers include Huawei, Ericsson, Overture, Nakina, Anuta and Aria.

Recommendations for service providers

Orchestration is a critical element in the deployment, operation and management of virtual network elements, but it is especially challenging to deploy with multiple VNFs from multiple vendors. It is also hard to integrate NFV with legacy networks and tie to existing OSS and BSS systems. There are only limited reference architectures, multiple standards and lots of unique ways of doing the same things.

Providers need to evaluate their level of internal development capabilities to deploy NFV systems, including NFV orchestration. Most providers will need to rely on a specific supplier or two to deliver a range of orchestration functionality, including service chaining, automated provisioning and management. Providers should select NFV orchestrators that support a wide range of multivendor VNFs, conform to emerging standards, and can be easily modified over time.

Next Steps

Learn more about network orchestration and virtualization

NFV and SDN orchestration in mobile networks

Everything you need to know about NFV

This was last published in November 2015

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