Typically, when there's complexity in computing, the industry creates standards. But in the case of virtualization, standards have run amok, with more than three dozen organizations focused on virtualization standards alone.
These include "official" groups such as IETF I2RS, ETSI, ITU-T and IEEE; de facto industry organizations including MEF, OIF, TM Forum, ONF, Broadband Forum, OpenStack, Open Daylight and OPNFV, plus single-vendor initiatives like Cisco's OPFlex and Juniper's Contrail. With this in mind, it's little wonder that more than half the service providers surveyed cited interoperability or system integration challenges (typically related to interoperability hurdles) as the primary challenge when implanting network virtualization technology, according to a Light Reading poll.
The New IP Agency (NIA) is rewriting this script. Formally launched in January 2016, the non-profit, independent organization conducts interoperability testing with partner EANTC; empowers developers and service providers to share comprehensive information about their organizations via Virtuapedia, an online information resource of businesses involved in virtualization, and communication between service providers and developers. The New IP conducted an email interview recently with Jeff Hannah, director of NIA, about the 501(c) organization he heads, its benefits and future plans. Here are his responses:
Alison Diana: So how would you describe the first half of the year since the New IP Agency was formed?
Jeff Hannah: The first six months of the NIA have been reflective of the virtualization industry -- some trepidation, but a lot of excitement and willingness to see open and interoperable virtualized IP networks realized. Service providers have been very supportive of the activities of the NIA and see value in the NIA's mission and the testing activities, namely the more advanced tests the NIA has recently conducted on Service Function Chaining, but they have also looked to the NIA to populate more information on some of the more basic-level interoperability evaluations the NIA and Light Reading hosted together in late 2015. The information being published is useful to their virtualization adoption needs, both from a technical understanding perspective and from a political perspective, progressing the industry forward and highlighting vendors that are leading the industry towards open and interoperable virtualization technologies that have been evaluated within a real-world lab environment.
AD: What are the primary missions of NIA?
JH: The core mission of the NIA is to advance the communications industry towards the adoption of open and interoperable virtualized IP networks and provide the industry with information on what solutions work and are most likely to work well within service providers' networks as open source-based networking solutions are adopted. This is the core focus of the NIA's testing activities. Additionally, the outcomes of the NIA's testing activities become an educational resource for service providers, integrators and vendors who want to know what solutions they can pair with.
AD: What are the biggest challenges service providers face when implementing virtualization?
Leading the Charge
As NIA Director, Jeff Hannah oversees the non-profit organization's service providers and virtualization developers members, relationships with partners like EANTC and Light Reading and new initiatives.
Interoperability and the operational management of open source-based networking technologies remain a consistent concern for service providers. Virtualization of service provider networks was introduced nearly five years ago, but while many industry groups have been active in developing standards and best-practices for the adoption of virtualization, segments of the virtualized network architecture still require industry-defined interfaces, protocols or APIs. Within the NIA, this has become more and more apparent as our test cases have started to address higher levels of the NFV architecture, specifically interoperability between VNFs, management of VNFs and even interoperability of NFV elements with software-defined networking (SDN) technology.
The operational concerns reside with the fact that virtualized networking is not a static technology, but rather a continued evolution of software-based solutions that require periodic updates, namely at the NFVi and virtual infrastructure manager levels. Within the NIA, OpenStack-based NFVis have been the predominate solution, but as was reported in the NIA's first evaluation on VNF-NFVi interoperability backwards compatibility between versions of OpenStack created interoperability challenges. In the NIA's later evaluations on VNF Management and Service Function Chaining, new versions of OpenStack were accessed (Kilo and Liberty) which required vendors to update their NFVis -- and in some cases their supporting hardware -- to support the latest versions of OpenStack. From a service provider perspective, this clearly challenges some of the capex and opex savings that virtualization has touted as benefits.
AD: In terms of developers and distributors, what would you say are their biggest hurdles in the area of virtualization?
JH: From the perspective of larger, more established developers and distributors there is a need to collaborate more and adopt open, non-proprietary-based solutions. This was clearly witnessed late last year with Telefonica's dismissal of HPE. As for developers that are offering non-proprietary-based solutions, there is a need for the industry to continue to determine, seek out or develop needed interfaces, protocols or APIs that can be utilized, commonly, by the communications industry to reduce barriers to integration and deployment. The NIA's evaluations hosted to date have helped members identify some of these gap areas and the NIA seeks to collaborate with industry organizations to address the creation of requisite interfaces and protocols.
AD: How does the NIA help service providers address these challenges?
JH: The NIA creates an independent multi-vendor community for developers to test and evaluate their solutions against each other. Service providers and distributors want to know what works with what before they commit to their procurement assessments; the NIA provides a proving ground for developers, which in turn provides information for service providers to assess what developers and distributors they should be engaging with.
AD: What is NIA doing to help developers overcome these hurdles?
JH: The NIA is providing developers with the opportunity to assess their solutions against other developers' solutions. By hosting evaluations that focus on advanced test cases that address the needs and wants of service providers, the NIA gives developers valuable opportunities to access their own solutions and how they measure within real-world settings.
AD: Some vendors already test interoperability of their virtualization products with other vendors' solutions: How is NIA different?
JH: Coopetition is the new reality for developers within a market being defined by open source-based solutions, but the comms industry is currently experiencing a fuzzy hybrid of old business models mixed with friendly vendor collaboration, defining industry ecosystems comprised of solutions that are known to be interoperable, but only with friends. This hybrid approach still presents challenges to service providers' adoption of best-of-breed solutions. The NIA however is agnostic and any developer is welcome to participate in the NIA's evaluations.
AD: What are the primary benefits members usually cite?
JH: The NIA's membership has frequently cited the R&D and marketing benefits to NIA membership and participation in the NIA's evaluations. By participating in the NIA's evaluations and securing lessons learned, members are able to cycle feedback to their R&D teams. Additionally, the published outcomes from the NIA's evaluations have significant marketing value since the NIA hosts independent evaluations with its contracted test partner, EANTC. The successful outcomes reported within the NIA's publications are useful to marketing and sales departments alike.
AD: Can you discuss anything new or upcoming from NIA in 2016?
JH: The NIA will continue to host its evaluations on VNF-NFVi interoperability, which is something service providers are very interested in. Additionally, the NIA will continue with hosting evaluations related to service function chaining and network management.
AD: Why did you join NIA as director in 2015? What attracted you to this organization and role?
JH: I had worked with standards development organizations within the telecommunications industry in the past and recognized that the adoption of virtualized technologies would require healthy multi-vendor testing programs to progress the industry forward.
— Alison Diana, Ambassador, The New IP Agency. Follow her on Twitter @alisoncdiana or @NewIPAgency.