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Labs Researcher Wins Best Paper Award at 1st IEEE NFV-SDN Conference



“Communications Services Providers (CSP) don’t want to be chained down,” said Puneet Sharma, principal research scientist for Networking and Mobility at Hewlett Packard Labs, and IEEE Fellow. “They don’t want to be prisoners of ‘vendor lock, they want innovation by vendor and open source community to help drive new next generation services delivery’”

Sharma’s performance characterization work for Network Function Virtualization (NFV) has garnered recognition at the first IEEE Conference on Network Function Virtualization and Software Defined Networks (IEEE NFV-SDN), held in San Francisco in November 2015. Awareness of the importance of NFV and SDN has grown so much in recent years that this dedicated conference became necessary.

NFV-VITAL: A Framework for Characterizing the Performance of Virtual Network Functions,” co-authored by Sharma with HPE Labs intern Lianjie Cao, HPE Fellow Vinay Saxena of Communications Solutions Business and Professor Sonia Fahmy of Purdue University, has won the conference’s first Best Paper Award. This is yet another example of how Hewlett Packard Labs and business units work in close tandem to create technology innovations. Saxena and Sharma’s team have been collaborating on NFV research topics even before HPE’s NFV Business Unit was formed.

NFV or Play-Doh Networking

The paper details the creation of performance characterization methodology for what Sharma calls “Play-Doh networking,” a way for companies to avoid vendor lock (an issue Labs has addressed elsewhere). Instead of benchmarking, he and his colleagues have created an architecture, called NFV-VITAL, for automatically orchestrating performance characterization of virtual network functions while exploring a multitude of virtualization configuration knobs such as SR-IOV, VM-size, DPDK etc.. The performance characterization framework described by Sharma and his colleagues gives telecom operators a way to alleviate and avoid DIY inefficiencies while adopting NFV for avoiding vendor dependence.

“The characterization work we’ve done allows users to automatically assess infrastructure resource requirements for varying workloads,” said Sharma, “something that’s humanly impossible to do manually given the large number of configuration options.”

When it comes to VNF the configuration of the server it runs on and the specific virtualization parameters determines the performance be it capacity, loss, and/or delay.

Prior efforts on studying virtualization impact on VNF have been limited to focusing on individual knobs or a specific VNF. Extensive performance characterization in NFV space has not been done so far because doing so is very cumbersome and difficult. The parameters are of such scope that manually instantiating all options is impossible, or near to it. This undertaking has resulted in an automation of characterization process for intelligent exploration of parameter space.

Employing VITAL will allow orchestrators to utilize their infrastructure more efficiently, reducing the cost and making the resource mapping more adaptive. The whole project provides a framework to optimize the orchestration of NFV operations

HPE Labs, CSB and NFV

Far from answering a question no one has gotten around to asking, Sharma’s work, and the award-winning paper, derived from telecom clients coming to HPE, explaining what they wanted, and asking for help.

“CSP’s came to us and wanted to virtualize,” he said. “HPE is uniquely positioned in NFV space with top-level expertise and has all the pieces to help them build a NFV solution they can deploy.” This expertise has led to HPE’s OpenNFV Solution Portal with access to over 50 pre-validated VNF solutions from HPE OpenNFV partners.

This recognition by IEEE, positions HPE Labs and Communications Solutions Business in the forefront of network function virtualization (NFV) technologies.

Building Your Own Race Car

Sharma cautions that the creation of NFV-VITAL does not imply that ready-made middlebox appliance solutions are without merit. To illustrate the point, he showed me three pictures. The first was a model of a car, representing a performance automobile made by a top-shelf company.

“If you really want to make a sleek car that can smoke the competition, this is the way to do it – because the engineers optimize the hell out of it,” he said, indicating a shiny example of American Muscle. However, not only they are very expensive, these can’t be molded to meet varying demands of ever changing requirements and workloads.

The second picture was of a clay model of a car. It was… homey looking. Or maybe homely would be more accurate.

“Assembling your own network functions is freeing,” he said, “but sometimes you can make a bit of a mess.”

The third picture was also of a clay model, but the kind that, as a kid, you automatically presume was made not by your classmate, but by his or her parent.

“This is what our performance characterization architecture does for the user,” said Sharma. “It allows them maximum freedom, while providing a method for maximizing efficiency and increasing the likelihood of desired outcome.”

Clearly, the judges at IEEE NFV-SDN wanted to build their own race car, and they didn’t want to make a mess of it. Thanks to Sharma and his colleagues, they won’t.

(Click image to watch video.)

puneet vid.JPG


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Managing Editor, Hewlett Packard Labs