Open source, open standards, open APIs, and open everything are often credited as being an integral part of NFV digital transformation initiatives -- and for good reason.
In a collection of discussions with industry experts, here's a closer look at the "three As" of the open source NFV movement: agility, automation, and API accessibility. (OK, you could call it four but we're calling it three.)
NFV is driving the move to white boxes
Authors Amar Kapadia and Nicholas Chase note in their new book, Understanding OPNFV: Accelerate NFV Transformation using OPNFV
, that "NFV is based on the 'Google infrastructure for everyone else' trend" while arguing that NFV and the anti-proprietary white box movement are intrinsically linked. Kapadia and Chase further suggest that the very history of SDN and NFV -- borne from service providers' ever heightening demands for "agility" -- spells obsolesence for proprietary black boxes.
Service providers are indeed recognizing this promised value. Adam Dunstan, vice president of SDN and NFV engineering at CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), said in a Telco Transformation radio show earlier this year that he and his team generally prefer open source solutions to proprietary ones as a matter of understanding.
"The lack of transparency in traditional products is a significant impediment," said Dunstan. "We have spent tremendous amounts of time developing systems to glue them together -- so much time in many cases that we could have just developed the functionality."
Thus, Dunstan indicated, open source allows teams like his to crowdsource NFV efforts effectively and intelligently -- particularly because of the sheer numbers and diversity of people involved in open source projects.
NFV automation requires open source, open collaboration
One of the dream visions of the NFV future, however, is about needing fewer people -- automation. For Heather Kirksey, vice president of NFV at the Linux Foundation
and director of Open Platform for NFV Project Inc.
(OPNFV), this commoditization of IT is driving this future.
"When we're talking about things like automation or DevOps, part of the entire reason that those can come into being is because we are looking at thinking of our networks as being infrastructure, as code, or as software -- as opposed to boxes," said Kirksey in a recent Light Reading Upskill University presentation on this very subject. "That's what starts to enable these interesting, sophisticated ways of thinking about automated processes and managing your network."
Kirksey further emphasized that the only way to get NFV automation right to begin with is to embrace an "open" model -- getting people extensively collaborating with each other to lay the groundwork properly the first time. Organizations such as OPNFV and the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) have taken the reins on unifying service providers and the open source community around a set of NFV standards. (See OPNFV's Kirksey: Open Source Network Automation – Virtual, Yet Human.)
Open API access optimizes NFV
ETSI is also active in the innovation and exposure of open APIs and open source code -- and is presently in the process of releasing its "stage three" APIs in NFV. In an a recent interview, Joan Triay, ETSI's NFV technical steering committee chairman, shared an anecdote from a recent ETSI NFV tutorial session preceding ETSI's most recent NFV Plenary Meeting. (See: ETSI's Triay on NFV Plugtests, Spec-Fests, Tutorials
"There was a particular demo where it was shown in real time how, by making use of the exposure of the open APIs, it was possible to make queries and request certain actions to an end device that was already deployed somewhere in Europe to actually run a live demo," said Triay. "With good exposure of the open APIs, it was much, much faster for that particular provider to show these demos."
Meanwhile, Kirksey, for her part, gives major kudos to OpenStack for making such APIs more accessible via open networking while, at the same time, jumpstarting the open source virtualization community.
"OpenStack is a programmable infrastructure that basically sets several APIs on top of compute, networking and storage," explained Kirksey. "That was one of those first types of automation building blocks that enabled us to start rethinking how we wanted to deploy our networks or our applications."
The "building blocks" analogy is a favorite in the open source virtualization space. Travis Ewert, senior vice president of global network software development at Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT), likens the planning of a service provider's NFV environment to selecting toys for his children. Whereas action figures come preassembled, Ewert notes, building blocks like Lego bricks can be used to build just about anything you want -- with or without the instructions.
"The parts may be self-built, partner built, or open source community built that you can leverage or build upon," Ewert told Telco Transformation. "That's really the transformational piece that's probably the biggest opportunity to our industry, as well as the biggest struggle for us service providers to overcome -- because it completely breaks that traditional model."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation