Over the last few weeks, I have had the unique opportunity to engage with large audiences developing and deploying Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) solutions at opposite ends of the globe at industry events such as Interop and Huawei Cloud Day in Tokyo as well as OPNFV 2016 in Berlin. In many of my conversations with service providers, enterprise IT professionals and cloud software providers, a number of key themes driving the next set of network transformation milestones started to emerge.
Open source/standards convergence for SDN and NFV must and will happen
The freedom to innovate is beautiful. Yet, for SDN and NFV to continue to leverage open source community initiatives to drive technology and service innovation, attention must be paid to the depth and the scope of the many community projects. Too much overlap between SDN and NFV projects does not float everybody’s boat; to the contrary, the resulting fragmentation of efforts can add confusion, create resource sprawl and thus delay deployment.
Encouragingly, there are at least two trends that I believe are starting to create real world convergence. First, a number of leading community projects such as OPNFV, OpenStack and OpenDaylight (ODL) are more strongly enforcing their respective project lifecycle models, effectively decommissioning dormant sub-projects. This activity is not about introducing a Darwinian (‘only the strongest will survive’) attitude to open source. Instead, the focus is to converge on stronger projects and to create a reliable supply chain of well-maintained, deeply technical projects, expert contributors, code bases and documentation.
Secondly, I consider the growth of project ‘Advisory Groups’ as a catalyst for convergence. OPNFV, ODL (with 17 members) and ETSI’s Open Source MANO (OSM) are just the latest in a chain of large community projects launching end-user centered groups within their collaborative project infrastructure. Advisory groups of end-user organizations are laser-focused on getting viable SDN and NFV stacks into production as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible, thus creating a pragmatic, real-world forcing function to prioritize open source that delivers actionable value to meet business requirements.
More clouds on the horizon
Over the last few years, the ‘cloudification’ of the network has primarily focused on data center networks run by enterprise IT, cloud operators and telecommunication service providers. In my conversations with technology vendors, I found tremendous excitement to extend their offers beyond these three market segments. The networks for High Performance Computing (HPC) and Big Data Analytics are seen as new frontiers for SDN and NFV. However, I believe that the identification and value capture for SDN and NFV technologies in all of these areas will rely on an increasingly sophisticated set of software and hardware ‘solutions’ that are tailored to meet the unique use cases of the segments’ end-user communities. Based on a broad foundation of interoperable, highly performant building blocks, these tailored solutions will unearth new value propositions for SDN and NFV, introducing cloud technologies to networks dominated by legacy physical network functions today.
Normative aspect of evolving SDN and NFV will reach a new level of maturity in 2016
Technology standardization takes many forms. For SDN and NFV, the past 2-3 years have been characterized by increasingly related standardization and open source development efforts. In a number of areas (e.g. virtual infrastructure management), open source has become the ‘de-facto’ standard. I believe that 2016 will see the arrival of the next phase of standardization around common industry benchmarks as a horizontal layer spanning development across multiple SDN and NFV focus areas. As an example, dimensioning system level capacity for SDN and NFV use cases in telecommunication networks is hard to do today given the lack of comparable information, tools and methodologies. At the OPNFV summit, my call to action to more deeply engage on real world benchmarking and testing was met with an amazing response. I would like to now extend this invitation to all of our worldwide partners to collaborate with Intel to develop standardized normative testing criteria to accelerate the transformation of the network, everywhere.