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VNF Onboarding – the first step to a successful NFV deployment


Author: Madhu Kashyap, Sr. Global Product Line Manager, NFV Solutions, Hewlett Packard Enterprise


 HPE20160608006_800_0_72_srgb (1).jpgThe communications business is one of the most dynamic industries with continual changes occurring in technology, services, competition, and business models.


While change is constant, Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are fundamentally concerned with two things:

  • Bringing new services to market to grow the top line
  • Reducing the cost of network services from both CAPEX and OPEX perspective


Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) addresses both these goals. CSPs are moving towards virtualizing the various functions / services in their network. They want to reap the benefits of cloud economies by bringing the same technologies that power the cloud to the telco cloud.  It’s the promise of deploying virtual network functions (VNFs) on industry standard high volume servers, switches, and storage located in data centers, network nodes, and in end-user premises. The lure of 5G and IoT is a powerful incentive to get there quickly.


Once the CSP has decided to launch a service, there is the initial planning stage which includes a number of activities. These include the identification of the VNFs and VNF vendors, understanding the licensing agreements, procuring the VNFs, drafting the high-level design and working out the capacity and performance plans. Once the planning phase concludes, the very first operational step is to onboard the relevant VNFs from multiple vendors that make up the network service. A network service has complex VNF onboarding requirements which include multiple VNFs, Service Function Chaining (SFC), VNF Forwarding Graph (VNFFG), Physical Network Functions (PNFs), etc. The problem is that there is no standard way to instantiate, configure, and operationalize these multi-vendor VNFs. Each VNF is a “snowflake” with its own unique way of onboarding. There is a gap between what VNF vendors provide and the ability of the CSPs to easily consume these VNFs. Today, it is a very expensive, complex and time-consuming effort to onboard VNFs.


CSPs have identified VNF onboarding as one of the main stumbling blocks on their path to VNF adoption. According to Caroline Chappell, Principal Analyst, Analysys Mason, “VNF onboarding is one of the major challenges the industry must solve to ensure the long-term success of NFV. This will require a standards-based approach that automates the onboarding process and minimizes its complexity”. The promise of NFV is yet to be realized because of the cost and complexity of onboarding VNFs.


VNFs are difficult to onboard because there are no common configuration protocols, interfaces, and policies. Every VNF vendor has their own proprietary way to manage their VNFs, sometimes with a specialized VNF Manager. In addition, both VNF vendors and CSPs have their own challenges. VNF vendors have to test their VNFs against multiple Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIMs), Orchestrators, and possibly even VNF Managers which is a major interop testing effort and cost. Alternatively, CSPs have their own workflows and DevOps tools and would like to integrate the Onboarding process with their workflows to make sure the VNF operates successfully in their environment.


There are ongoing efforts to standardize on both the VNF Descriptor (a VNF Descriptor (VNFD) is a deployment template which describes a VNF in terms of its deployment and operational behavior requirements), as well as the packaging format. Standards bodies such as ETSI, IETF, OASIS-TOSCA and open source communities such as OPNFV, OpenDayLight, and ONAP play a critical role in defining and implementing these standards. Both vendors and CSPs have to keep up with the rapid iteration in standards and open source projects as they gain traction. The ETSI specifications define a rich information model and in conjunction with the TOSCA NFV Simple Profile, specify an NFV specific data model using the TOSCA language. These specifications form the basis for many of the requirements and attributes that are being implemented by VNF vendors. There is also work being done on the packaging format that includes not only the structure of the package but all the elements that make up the package such as image file, VNF Descriptor, pre and post-processing scripts, monitoring drivers, etc. Here again, ETSI is defining the specifications and open source communities, such as OPNFV, working on the implementation.


But until such time that there is convergence within the standards bodies and adoption by the industry, CSPs need to consider tools today that can address the disparity in formats and packaging. Tools that provide the ability to translate between these different formats & packages so that CSPs can easily automate the whole onboarding process in their specific environment with the Orchestrator and VIM of their choice. In the end, a repeatable and predictable VNF onboarding process will help the CSPs on their NFV journey.


Typically, VNF Onboarding involves the following high-level activities with each activity having multiple tasks or sub-activities.

High-level Activity


VNF Onboarding

VNFc image upload to catalog, Create descriptors, Create package, Upload package to catalog

VNF Instantiation

Pre-processing, VNFc bootup, VNFc network connectivity

VNF Configuration

Post-processing, VNF configuration through EMS / drivers

VNF Operations

Start, Stop, Suspend, Resume, Monitoring

VNF Scaling

Scale up / down, Scale in / out

VNF Healing

VNF Failover, VNF Migration

VNF Update / Upgrade

VNF image update, VNF image upgrade, Lossless processing

VNF Termination

VNF image removal, Network connectivity termination



HPE recently introduced the VNF Onboarding Factory service based on the broad and deep experience gained from the OpenNFV Partner program. The experience of onboarding many different types of VNFs from numerous vendors who are part of this partner ecosystem was the genesis for the VNF Onboarding Factory. The processes and tools used to validate a large number of VNFs on standard reference implementations on both the NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) and Virtual Infrastructure Manager (VIM) have resulted in this very innovative offering whose goal is to make it simple for a VNF vendor to model and package the VNF only once and deploy it on any target environment with minimal changes.


The VNF Onboarding Factory is a consulting and professional services offering focused on implementing an end-to-end service for common use cases such as vIMS, vEPC, and vCPE but also other use cases requiring VNF Onboarding services. The service includes standing up an HPE NFV System, with the HPE NFV Director Orchestrator and certified VIMs such as HPE Helion OpenStack Carrier Grade and Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack Platform. The above onboarding activities include ongoing testing in a staging environment before it can be taken to production deployment. Testing includes smoke test, full functional tests, assurance, performance, capacity tests, etc. Optionally, it includes integrations with OSS / BSS systems and performance characterization of the VNFs based on a patented framework in order to have a successful VNF deployment.


CSPs can now confidently march ahead on their NFV journey by engaging with the HPE Onboarding Factory team in order to have a smooth, predictable and repeatable VNF onboarding experience.


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