It’s fascinating to watch the telecommunications ecosystem spin up, almost from thin air, virtual network functions (VNFs). The ability to remotely create and control network assets promises to radically change, if not transform, networking. This is especially true when NFV is teamed with software-defined networks (SDN), the bookend capability that maps paths and their attributes through networks.
All of this requires a deep level of interoperability. Complex elements must work together in a seamless manner, and today, four industry giants – Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia – said that they have created the NFV Interoperability Testing Initiative (NFV-ITI).
The goal is to facilitate NFV deployment in multivendor networks. The press release says that NFV-ITI will test assets “actually used in the communication service providers’ network.” The NFV-ITI is all about real-world testing, the companies say:
It will recommend generic principles, including interoperability test cases, test criteria, processes, methods, guidelines, templates, and testing tools, and will also apply best practices from all existing interoperability testing activities in the industry, such as the NVIOT forum efforts. NFV-ITI shall be well-aligned with the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group and the OPNFV project.
Most networks are multivendor, so the initiative makes sense and shows that real and practical NFV challenges are being tackled. NFV-ITI is not the first stab being taken at this, however. An ongoing initiative is from the European Advanced Networking Test Center (EANTC). In a video, Managing Director Carsten Rossenhövel says that the goal is to enable VNFs from any vendor or open source provider to interoperate with any other.
The organization has been at work for more than a year. There are five steps to the process. Currently, the organization is testing VNF manager interoperability. Next month, Rossenhövel said, EANTC will work with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) on management orchestration interoperability.
At Light Reading, Rossenhövel provides a far more detailed assessment of the state of NFV interoperability. The group has assessed interoperability of products from 16 vendors (Cisco, Dell, Huawei, Juniper, Nokia, ZTE, Cobham, Hitachi, Ineoquest, Infoblox, Metaswitch, Mitel, NetNumber, Netrounds, Procera and Sonus) and tested where appropriate.
Rossenhövel says that EANTC is making progress – and much remains to be done:
A year ago, when we ran the first test campaign, many findings were new and it was difficult to overcome them. Vendors supplied new software in some cases; in 11 cases, we had to give up the test combination as not achievable. In the latest campaign, VNF and NFVi vendors generally understood the challenges better and provided more advanced software; most of the issues were related to configuration. Only three combinations failed because of major incompatibilities.
It is difficult to image a greater change than that of moving from a physical to a virtualized network. In addition to replicating all the functions of the former into the latter, engineers and developers must make it easy for network owners to choose gear from any source they desire. Work is ongoing, but the end is not yet in sight.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at email@example.com and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.