Probably more than any other industry sector, the telecommunications market has the habit of jumping from one hype cycle to the next, with only short phases of realism and depression in between. As opposed to other industries, both vendors and customers seem to be participating in this vicious circle - ‘full steam’. Neither side wants to be woken up, let alone stopped.
One of the main drivers of NFV is breaking apart functional networking blocks into their most focused pieces so that customers can pick and choose the ones that are most applicable to their services. That concept also seems to work for trade shows, as this focused show in Denver was well attended by industry professionals interested in focusing on the specific topic of SDN and NFV for communications service providers. In general, the talks and panels were well attended, informative, sometimes controversial, and worthwhile.
In a previous blog, I discussed how equipment providers are facing a lucrative but pitfall-laden path in deciding how to invest in NFV to displace dedicated appliances. CSPs have similar NFV investment decisions to make on the user side of the equation. They need to answer the question: “Where should I start implementing an NFV strategy to deliver network functions and customer services as a means of improving my bottom line and business success?”
If you haven’t yet read the Innovator’s Dilemma, you should. This seminal book by Clayton Christensen is now approaching its 20th anniversary and is as relevant as ever. It analyzes the hair pulling difficulties that incumbents face in embracing disruptive technologies that can reshape industries and shift the balance of power between newcomers and themselves.
Microsoft is central to three classic examples. They grabbed the PC software market from IBM, very nearly ceded the Internet browser market to Netscape, and then by ignoring search engines until it was too late, ignominiously lost the Internet advertising market to Google.
As apparent in the OPNFV summit held a couple months ago, network functions virtualization (NFV) is taking off in terms of popularity. While, the growing interest hasn’t quite been translated into widespread deployment, the underlying concept is obviously building a very wide and diverse fan base. Along with the interest, the list of potential and real inhibitors also keeps growing.
Until recently, open source has had a relatively modest impact on networking. One of the many indications that open source is now having more of an impact on networking occurred at the 2016 Open Networking Summit in Santa Clara, CA. In past years, the focus on the ONS was SDN and NFV. While those were important topics at this year’s conference, the tag line for the conference was “A New Era of Open Source Networking”. The fact that this year’s ONS had such a strong focus on open source shouldn’t be surprising because in November 2015 the ONS became a Linux Foundation event.
“Think specifically about the OTT (over the top) Cloud applications that run on the infrastructure you provide: Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Maps and more. You provide the infrastructure, the satellite links, the entire spectrum of network services (security, backup, bandwidth and more) . . . and OTT apps use it all to siphon revenue from you with lower-quality and often-free apps—from messaging to navigation to telephone.”
Up until the late 2000s, implementing carrier-grade security solutions involved a great deal of struggle and multiple appliances were installed all over the network. Ordinary servers weren’t built to handle the resource-intensive software that would monitor and protect your network. In the modern day, COTS servers have greatly increased their capabilities, allowing complex applications to run on general-purpose computing machines. The next obvious step is to run network security applications using NFV.
The conventional wisdom has been that Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is associated exclusively with Communications Service Providers (CSPs). Part of the reason for that is based on the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the key role they played in the development of NFV. For example, roughly three and a half years ago an Industry Specifications Group (ISG) for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV ISG) was formed under the auspices of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI NFV ISG). While the membership has evolved significantly, the initial members of the ETSI NFV ISG were all CSPs such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom and NTT.