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Wednesday, 24 October 2012 09:36

Telcos aim to bring virtualisation to telco networks

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A handful of the world's leading telcos, including Telstra, have got together to set up an industry group under the auspices of global standards body ETSI to look at virtualising telco network functions, presently implemented in dedicated hardware and software.

The "Network Functions Virtualisation" Industry Specification Group was announced at the Layer123 SDN and OpenFlow World Congress, being held in Darmstadt Germany. Its members are AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, France Télécom - Orange. KDDI, NTT, Telecom Italia, Telstra, Telefónica and Verizon.

The aim of the group appears to be to apply the techniques of software defined networking to telco networks. However details are scant. iTWire has been unable to locate any official announcement and Telstra had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

Dan Pitt, CEO of the Open Networking Foundation, an industry body focussed on promoting SDN, wrote on the ONF blog: "The Group aims to address the hardware challenges facing network operators in a world where networks are characterised by an ever-growing number of proprietary hardware appliances...

"Accommodating the physical size, growing energy costs, and capital investment requirements is becoming increasingly challenging for network operators worldwide. The Network Functions Virtualisation ISG aims to help solve these problems by consolidating disparate network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage, with important emphasis on implementing their functions in software."

According to Pitt the combination of Network Functions Virtualisation and OpenFlow-based SDN will be powerful.

"OpenFlow-based SDN can enhance the performance of Network Functions Virtualisation by simplifying compatibility with existing deployments and facilitating many aspects of network operation and management."

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He added: "Many of the ISG's participating network operators, including Colt, Deutsche Telecom, KDDI, NTT, Telecom Italia, and Verizon, are ONF member companies who are embracing the value of collaboration between the two groups. And several of our board directors are playing an active role in steering the NFV group."

Another commentator, Tom Nolle president and founder of consultancy CIMI Corporation, said: "As I'm hearing, this activity goes beyond OpenFlow and SDN to address standardised cloud infrastructures and even a possible PaaS-like structure on which to build services. However, it's not clear just how far it will go in this ambitious direction, or how fast.

"What seems to be the key point of NVF is the abstraction of network infrastructure functionality, something that could in theory reduce it to a model whose component elements had specific interfaces and functionality."

A third attendee at the event, Telecom Italia's Antonio Manzalini argued that network virtualisation was distinct from SDN. "Network Functions Virtualisation is complementary to SDN but they are not dependent on each other!

"[NFV] involves the implementation of network functions in software that can run on a range of standard hardware, and that can be moved to, or instantiated in, various locations in the network as required. Really challenging as it implies live moving of ensembles of virtual machines with their associated data whist keeping WAN state consistent!"

He added: "Current SDN proposals are not (fully) taking into account integration with network management functions, specifically the relationships between the logically centralised control planes and the management plane. What's not clear (and not defined yet) is also the trade-off between centralisation-decentralisation of controllers, which impacting deeply network availability and performance."

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