Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The orchestrator conundrum in SDN and NFV

We have seen over the last year a flurry of activity around orchestration in SDN and NFV. As I have written about here and here, orchestration is a key element and will likely make or break SDN and NFV success in wireless.

A common mistake associated with orchestration is that it covers the same elements or objectives in SDN and NFV. It is a great issue, because while SDN orchestration is about resource and infrastructure management, NFV should be about service management. There is admittedly a level of overlap, particularly if you define services as both network and customer sets of rules and policies.

To simplify, here we'll say that SDN orchestration is about resource allocation, virtual, physical and mixed infrastructure auditing, insurance and management, while NFV's is about creating rules for traffic and service instantiation based on subscriber, media, origin, destination, etc...

The two orchestration models are complementary (it is harder to create and manage services if you do not have visibility / understanding of available resources and conversely, it can be more efficient to manage resource knowing what services run on them) but not necessarily well integrated. A bevy of standards and open source organizations (ETSI ISG NFV, OPNFV, MEF, Openstack, Opendaylight...) are busy trying to map one with another which is no easy task. SDN orchestration is well defined in term of its purview, less so in term of implementation, but a few models are available to experiment on. NFV is in its infancy, still defining what the elements of service orchestration are, their proposed interfaces with the infrastructure and the VNF and generally speaking how to create a model for service instantiation and management.

For those who have followed this blog and my clients who have attended my SDN and NFV in wireless workshop, it is well known that the management and orchestration (MANO) area is under intense scrutiny from many operators and vendors alike.
Increasingly, infrastructure vendors who are seeing the commoditization of their cash cow understand that the brain of tomorrow's network will be in MANO.
Think of MANO as the network's app store. It controls which apps (VNFs) are instantiated, what level of resource is necessary to manage them and stitch (service chaining) VNF together to create services.
The problem, is that MANO is not yet defined by ETSI, so anyone who wants to orchestrate VNFs today either is building its own or is stuck with the handful of vendors who are providing MANO-like engine. Since MANO is ill-defined, the integration requires a certain level of proprietary effort. Vendors will say that it is all based on open interfaces, but the reality is that there is no mechanism in the standard today for a VNF to declare its capabilities, its needs and its intent, so a MANO integration requires some level of abstraction or deep fine tuning,
As a result, MANO can become very sticky if deployed in an operator network. The VNFs can come and go and vendors can be swapped at will, but the MANO has the potential to be a great anchor point.
It is not a surprise therefore to see vendors investing heavily in this field or acquiring the capabilities:

  • Cisco acquired TailF in 2014
  • Ciena acquired Cyan this year
  • Cenx received 12,5m$ in funding this year...

At the same time, Telefonica has launched an open source collaborative effort called openMANO to stimulate the industry and reduce risks of verticalization of infrastructure / MANO vendors.

For more information on how SDN and NFV are implemented in wireless networks, vendors and operators strategies, look here.