The modern network is virtualized and automated, but no less human, according to the OPNFV's Heather Kirksey.
On August 30, Kirksey presented a Light Reading Upskill University course on the intersection of
open source with automation while emphasizing virtualization. As vice president of NFV at the Linux Foundation , Kirksey serves as director of the Open Platform for NFV Project Inc. } (OPNFV) -- a Linux Collaborative Project that is on the record as being committed to "transforming networking." That transformation, according to Kirksey, is fundamentally founded in virtualized, open-source automation.
Fail and fail fast
While all digital and technological transformations hinge on agility, Kirksey focused particularly on the idea of using network automation to "fail faster."
"On the application side, because you have a software infrastructure that has automation with it you can fail -- and fail fast -- with your service offerings," explained Kirksey. "So you can try a new service that does X, Y, and Z -- and people get excited -- and then it's easy to scale it up. Or no one likes it, but you haven't had to go roll out a new network to enable it."
Kirksey differentiated application automation from infrastructure automation, noting that automated processes contribute to agile or continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) methodologies by enabling constant infrastructural updates and the infusion of new capabilities.
"At the end of the day, NFV automation efforts contribute to whatever you're doing," said Kirksey. "So I think you'll see different ROIs and slightly different impacts based on whether you're more the infrastructure-type of developer or whether you're someone bringing a new application or service."
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NFV transformation equals cultural transformation
Accordingly, one of the big agility benefits of automation and NFV -- on the application side in particular -- is compelling stakeholders to discuss and agree on as many aspects and "what-ifs" as possible in advance before they proceed with an entirely new rollout. To wit, the kinds of NFV automation initiatives that Kirksey addressed compel collaboration and cultural optimization -- a message she has espoused more than once.
"The journey toward NFV is as much a cultural transformation of people and processes as it is any specific technology," Kirksey wrote in her foreword to Amar Kapadia and Nicholas Chase's book published earlier this year, Understanding OPNFV: Accelerate NFV Transformation using OPNFV. "Working side-by-side with NFV end users gives us extraordinary insight into the real-world challenges of NFV deployments along with the many opportunities of evolving toward a software defined future. Through this ongoing and active collaboration, OPNFV facilitates the development and evolution of open source NFV across the industry via integrated testing of the next-generation networking stack. It's a formidable and inspiring challenge that is producing real business value to NFV end users, technology providers and individuals alike."
Kirksey echoed -- and escalated -- those sentiments in her Upskill U presentation.
"As much as we talk about automation and we think that that's about bringing machines to take over what humans currently do, I would say that most of the work necessary to do that the right way is to get things working together," said Kirksey. "People think about the scripts, but really it is coming to agree upon the idea of what you're trying to accomplish and what the process is."
Virtualization and automation enhance business – and human – agility
The process that Kirksey perhaps spoke the most about during her Upskill U presentation was on the "creation" of testing methodologies. For OPNFV, Kirksey explained, this has led to some seemingly obvious questions, experimentation and projects on helping to accelerate more efficient IT testing with virtualization and automation by leveraging open source and open standards.
"SDN appeared on the scene, and now you have that ability to have a more programmable network to be able to provision things like Layer 2 VPNs more quickly and more easily, and the ability to set a service function chain across applications with easy scripts and clicks of a button," said Kirksey. "What I think really enables that is the way that it's all moving to software, so that you have that opportunity to build these really cool CI/CD pipelines with a lot of test automation and deployment gates in there."
Nonetheless, virtualized automation is less about replacing human performance with artificial intelligence so much as enhancing human performance with "augmented" intelligence. Thus, Kirksey suggested, the juncture of automation and virtualization is a fundamentally human one.
"All of that really at the end of the day is very people-oriented, and it's a lot about rethinking processes. Making sure business owners and technology owners are agreeing to processes, and then putting the tooling in place," summed up Kirksey. "The tooling is the icing of the cake that enables the implementation of it, but the automation only really works is if what it's doing is automating business processes that make sense cross-organizationally for you."
— Joe Stanganelli, Contributing Writer, Telco Transformation