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Successful NFV platforms hinge on middleware selection

When selecting NFV platforms, communication service providers should look for highly reliable middleware that allows them to adapt their networks over time.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) promises to re-architect telecommunications infrastructure, enabling large...

communication service providers (CSPs) to deliver new services while achieving lower Opex and Capex. NFV aims to consolidate multiple network functions onto commercial off-the-shelf platforms and enable each function to scale elastically. To achieve this goal, virtualization technologies must feature high reliability, low latency and ready scalability -- all critical telecom industry networking requirements. It is therefore vital that CSPs select the right middleware partners to ensure a successful NFV deployment.

Middleware: NFV platform options

Providers can choose from a wide range of NFV platforms and middleware suppliers. Here are some of the leading options today:

Dell teamed up with Red Hat to deliver a co-engineered OpenStack-based platform for NFV and SDN applications. Dell provides a full range of servers, storage and networking services for its NFV platforms.

ENEA is a Swedish-based provider of communication software and services. Its product suite includes: ENEA Linux, ENEA Hypervisor and ENEA Optima development tool suite. ENEA has a global services operation, offering end-to-end development and support for technology products.

Picking the right middleware partners to help adapt their networks over time will be a critical part of CSPs' NFV architectural evolution.

HP's OpenNFV architecture includes servers, storage, networking, virtualization software, SDN controllers, orchestration and links to OSS/BSS. HP's software includes OpenStack and carrier-grade Linux in partnership with Wind River. The company's NFV initiatives also include HP OpenNFV labs (for testing) and an OpenNFV independent software vendor (ISV) partner program.

Intel unit Wind River markets Carrier Grade Communications Server, which it launched in 2014. The software is based on Wind River's Open Virtualization approach, real-time kernel-based virtual machine architecture, enhanced OpenStack, and Intel's Data Plane Development Kit.

Red Hat is promoting the use of its OpenStack software and services as a platform for NFV development. It offers a full range of professional and support services for its NFV software stack.

VMware offers a wide range of products, including vSphere, vCloudDirector, vCenter Orchestrator, and its NSX network virtualization software, as part of its NFV platform.

A number of network equipment providers (NEPs), including Alcatel-Lucent, Brocade, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia also provide a comprehensive range of NFV applications and services.

Recommendations for CSPs

To successfully implement the virtual network functions they will be relying upon, CSPs and their partners must choose the correct NFV platforms, with an emphasis on highly reliable middleware. On their own, open source platforms such as OpenStack do not currently offer the capabilities (e.g., performance, scale and 99.999% uptime) to meet the telecommunication industry's networking requirements. In addition to evaluating NFV platforms for their technical capabilities, CSPs should consider the following when choosing middleware:

  • Ability to leverage IT standards to deliver high-performance network applications.
  • Breadth of application ecosystem -- including partnerships with dozens of ISVs and NEPs.
  • Ability to provide customized professional and support services -- rapidly and on a global basis.
  • Ability to integrate NFV applications within legacy network architectures and link to existing operational and billing systems.

NFV implementations are just beginning to affect the way telecom providers build and operate networks. Picking the right middleware partners to help adapt their networks over time will be a critical part of CSPs' NFV architectural evolution.

Next Steps

As CSPs virtualize networks, Cisco, VMware want piece of the pie

Service providers ease into NFV

NFV and SDN: Related, but distinct concepts

This was last published in July 2015

Dig Deeper on Service provider networks and SDN

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