Increasing complexity, a growing number of virtualized components, startup vendors and a desire to build on previous investments mean there's no near-view end in sight for NFV interoperability.
Speaking on a panel sponsored by the New IP Agency at Light Reading's NFV and Carrier SDN conference in Denver, executives from Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Sonus Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: SONS), European Advanced Networking Test Center AG (EANTC) and Heavy Reading discussed the steps they're taking today and what the industry must do to face tomorrow's challenges.
Currently Juniper, for example, leverages its legacy in networking to address router and firewall interoperability, said Scott Sneddon, senior director of SDN and virtualization at the vendor and NIA member.
"Then we get into the cloud platforms that they run on and our SDN plumbing layers that tie those things together and you want to make sure they work with the rest of the network and other SDN solutions and that is a new paradigm," he said. "And then if you want to take that whole solution set and make it modular and let someone bring in a different orchestrator, well then does that work with my cloud platform and do my VNFs work with that orchestrator -- it becomes quite a major issue quickly."
In the Room Where It Happens
NFV interoperability experts who spoke on the New IP Agency panel included from left: Jim Hodges; Brad Chalker; Carsten Rossenhoevel; Scott Sneddon; and moderator Carol Wilson, editor-at-large of Light Reading.
For its part, Sonus focuses on areas like unified communications, voice and video that demand high quality of service, said Brad Chalker, senior product manager. "So we're focusing on interoperability with the network so you can send real-time communications to the network with high quality," he said.
With each new operating system version, each new hypervisor or each new gadget, vendors and service providers must rework tests, said Jim Hodges, senior analyst at Heavy Reading. Even when those interoperability tests are restricted to the products and vendors that end-customers want, the list -- of developers, equipment and versions -- can appear insurmountable, especially as time goes on, if things continue along today's status quo, he said.
"As we move forward, if there's some way we can have a bit more of a universal, that's a bit of a panacea but it's something we want to move toward -- not having universal test scripts, but having something that's kind of more programmable," said Hodges.
EANTC, which New IP Agency commissioned to run interoperability testing, predicts a surge in testing because of NFV advances and the continued adoption of agile development, which adopts a fail fast philosophy, Carsten Rossenhoevel, managing director of research and development at EANTC, told show attendees. There's also a surge in vendor ecosystems, where developers confirm particular partners interoperate with their virtualized products, he said. Yet this can stifle innovation, said Rossenhoevel.
"Inevitably there will be more testing, and the more components from different vendors there are, there needs to be neutral, common grounds from testing. So far we're seeing a lot of certification programs from different vendors and from different industry groups and these are often programs where vendors -- smaller vendors -- often have to go to each of these locations and get certified by this vendor and that vendor, and this one and a fourth one says, 'Actually we don't want to certify you because you don't fit into our ecosystem,'" he said. "We felt the New IP Agency is something that's really needed in the industry to do industry-wide interop testing so we're not limited to any one ecosystem or any one open source group."
In addition to the test results themselves, Juniper benefited from participating in a multi-vendor trial that mirrored a post-proof-of-concept customer site, said Sneddon. "We see competitive situations where a vendor-led ecosystem is pitted against another vendor-led ecosystem. It's only after you iterate through those testing processes that they come back and say, 'Okay, we like that piece from there and this piece from there, now go make it work.' And that's kind of the cycle we're in with a lot of customer interactions," he said.
Today, the biggest interoperability challenges lie with the orchestration layer and "all the pieces" of key performance indicators around spinning up new instances and VNF interfaces, said Sonus' Chalker. "But from a pure standpoint of onboarding VNFs -- and we are working with a few select customers who have figured a lot of the orchestration piece out -- I feel like it's still a little bit immature," he said.
To get from immaturity to maturity, Heavy Reading's Hodges said the telecom industry should continue testing virtualized technologies within increasingly complex multi-vendor environments that both reflect real customer situations and the potential enterprises can achieve if they are liberated from vendor ecosystems.
— Alison Diana, Ambassador, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @The_New_IP.