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HP's 4 Stages of NFV



Guest Author: Rosalyn Roseboro, Senior Analyst – Telco Data Center at Light Reading


HP often describes the NFV journey as having 4 stages: decouple, virtualize, cloudify and decompose. From what I’ve seen, this accurately characterizes the process by which CSPs will move from their current to future state. Each step gets progressively more challenging, but also provides greater value.


Stage 1

Decouple is where software is separated from the underlying hardware. The goal is to enable virtualized network functions (VNFs) to run on standardized, open platforms. Most, if not all, network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) are actively working on this if they haven’t already done so. While important for the potential to reduce complexity, I think most will pass through this stage relatively quickly.


Stage 2

Virtualize is where things start to get more interesting, as VNFs can now be managed via a hypervisor, reaping efficiencies through better resource utilization. This is where most of the industry is at the moment. For data plane heavy VNFs, achieving adequate performance in a hypervisor-managed virtualized environment is proving to be a challenge, so there is a great deal of energy being devoted to hardware and software acceleration techniques. My conversations with some of the companies working on these performance challenges suggest that most should be resolved in the near term.


Stage 3

Cloudify is where virtualized compute, network and storage resources are managed as an elastic pool, allowing for even more efficient alignment with application demands, and automated service creation and delivery. I’m not aware of any CSPs offering cloudified VNFs in a significant way at this point, although this is where the largest and most progressive say they want to get. Before they can, the VNFs themselves will need to be re-architected. My sense is that VNF suppliers are only now beginning to understand the challenges and complexities involved in making their VNFs work in a cloudifiedfashion. Some CSPs may be happy to remain at this stage.


Stage 4

Decompose is where the virtualized resources are distributed and the VNFs themselves are decomposed into smaller functional elements, often referred to as microservices. This offers the promise of even greater innovation in service creation, with new combinations of microservices being created by CSPs and their customers. I expect it will be many years before we see many reach this stage. The amount of effort on the part of VNF owners will be significant, as will the changes in operations and culture that will be required for the CSPs to consume and deliver functionality in a completely new way.


As any long time telecom market watcher knows, transformation does not come quickly or easily. Over the course of my 15+ years as a telecom industry analyst, I have seen all sorts of new technologies promoted as being a catalyst for disruptive change. With the exception of IP itself, few lived up to their billing. Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), however, looks to be another exception, as I’ve never seen something so profound being embraced by so many CSPs. That said, the journey will be long, and there will be many steps and milestones along the way.




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