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NFV Interoperability Needs Strong Leadership

By Christopher Mohr April 26, 2016

When the Linux Foundation founded the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV) over a year and a half ago, one of its goals was to promote the interoperability of NFV between vendors. In spite of such efforts, the telecom industry has yet to achieve anything close to full NFV interoperability.

NFV Essentials goes into a technical discussion about why NFV interoperability remains elusive. Many network functions that were not interoperable to begin with, remained that way after they were virtualized into virtual network functions (VNF). The article also claims that a lack of accepted standards between VNF and network orchestrators has led to proprietary interfaces and encourages vendor lock.

A recent NFV interoperability test conducted by the European Advanced Networking Test Center (EANTC) demonstrates that it is not enough for vendors to agree on a common platform. Major vendors like Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Huawei, and Sonus Networks provided OpenStack-compatible solutions for EANTC to test.

In spite of the common platform, only 25 out of 39 interoperability tests passed; a success rate of 64 percent. While not a bad result, it still falls well short of full interoperability. License management, support for backwards compatibility, and too many options in tasks like VNF management prevented a higher success rate.

A recent report by EJL Wireless Research argues that the business model of telecom equipment vendors is another obstacle:

“We believe the realization of full NFV will be a gradual and long term process. Along the way, new business models for equipment vendors will need to be created and built with the support of service providers,” said Donglin Shen, a co-author of the report.

It is hard to disagree with the EJL report’s belief that achieving NFV interoperability on a large scale will take some time. When limited testing based on a finite set of vendors using the same platform exposes interoperability issues, imagine what a more comprehensive test would find!

The best reaction to these results is not to give up on the concept and keep moving forward. The ‘glass is half-full’ interpretation of the aforementioned EANTC test is that without trying really hard, vendors achieved a great deal of success. If someone or some group in the industry takes charge and defines more concisely what interoperability requirements will be, it will go a long way towards meeting that goal.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Contributing Writer

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