Software-Defined Telco – NFV in Production with VMware

Software-Defined Telco – NFV in Production with VMware

Bjoern Brundert (blog, twitter) is a Sr. Technical Account Manager in Hamburg, Germany. As part of VMware’s Professional Services Organization he works with large enterprises to support and guide them on their journey to the Software-Defined Enterprise. One of his focus areas since early 2013 has been Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

General Introduction to Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

It is a very exciting time for the Telco industry right now! In this blog post, I will share some updates and observations on VMware’s current involvement in NFV. Telco providers around the globe are working with VMware on both proof-of-concepts as well as production deployments. But let me take a step back and start with a brief overview.

You might have heard about NFV already, and maybe you have also read the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) documents around NFV. In summary, NFV is about delivering the promises of Cloud Computing for Telco providers and their customers: reduced CAPEX and OPEX; reduced time-to-market for new network services; greater flexibility to scale up, scale down or evolve services; openness to the virtual appliance market including software-only solutions; and opportunities to trial and deploy new innovative services at lower risk and higher speed. All these characteristics are very similar to the ones that enterprises expect from private, hybrid and public cloud deployments.

ETSI’s reference architecture differentiates between NFV Infrastructure (NFVI), NFV Management and Orchestration, as well as the Virtual Network Functions (VNFs). Adding Operations and Business Support Systems as well as Service, VNF and Infrastructure Description, the NFV reference architecture looks like this:

bjoernblog

Current Industry State of NFV

Since its establishment in January 2013, the ETSI Industry Specification Group (ISG) for NFV has been working on use case descriptions, outlined the architectural framework and virtualization requirements, as well as come up with proofs-of-concepts. But it’s not a technology discussion – NFV is about outcomes for the Telco industry, CAPEX and OPEX savings, operational excellence, and built-in agility to respond faster to business needs.

VMware has already helped customers across all industries to virtualize their workloads and enable them to respond faster to business needs, increase availability and operate critical infrastructures more efficiently. And while the industry is seeing many announcements around newly formed partnerships, proofs-of-concepts and standardization efforts, VMware is part of actual NFVI implementations in production usage. VMware customers have embraced NFVI at a very early stage and already see the benefits of cloud computing in Telco environments today.

VMware’s Position in NFV

As described before, NFVI is supposed to be the infrastructure layer for Virtual Network Functions and provides the necessary agility for “Telco Cloud” requirements. While NFVI is expected to run on COTS (commercial off the shelf) hardware, the virtualization layer and its management platform need to provide carrier-grade maturity and supportability.

Over the past decade, VMware has been working very hard to provide best-in-class technology with its ESXi hypervisor as well as the Cloud Management Platform components in vCloud Suite. VMware’s vision and strategy for a Software-Defined Datacenter is very closely aligned with the industry’s requirements for NFVI. On this blog, VMware CTO Ben Fathi and Principal Engineer Bruce Davie have also written about NFV. With the pace of innovation and VMware’s recent VMworld 2014 announcements, it’s time for an update.

Reality Check: Where Are We Today?

VMware’s Software-Defined Datacenter portfolio provides the optimal foundation to run mission-critical workloads in a highly efficient manner. Where are we today?

NFVI Virtual Compute and Memory

First of all, VMware provides best-in-class hypervisor technology that is leading the way to virtualize all kinds of applications. VMware’s ESXi already allows the deployment of low-latency, low-jitter and high I/O throughput workloads like Telco applications. With each new version, VMware has introduced new enhancements and features to provide the best platform for any workload. In addition to the abstraction of the x86 architecture, VMware has introduced and evolved features like vMotion, DRS, Storage vMotion and Storage DRS to optimize efficiency around operational aspects. At the same time, VMware High Availability has proven to be one of the most deployed cluster technologies worldwide.

A little known fact: VMware’s Office of the CTO was the founding rapporteur of the NFVI Hypervisor Domain Working Group in the ETSI NFV ISG.

NFVI: Virtual Networking

Besides the abstraction of Compute and Memory resources in x86, VMware has been in the business of virtual networking for over a decade now. VMware vSphere-based virtual switches provide connectivity to millions of virtual machines. In 2012, the number of virtual ports surpassed the number of physical access ports globally. Software-defined Networking and Security solutions are the evolutionary next step and enable much faster deployment of virtual networks with better-than-physical security and visibility into traffic flows. VMware has been recognized as a Visionary in Gartner’s Data Center Networking Magic Quadrant. VMware’s NSX solution offers not only an open, programmatic approach and agility through network virtualization, but also a large ecosystem and choice to run virtualized L2 to L7 functions on any hardware platform.

NFVI: Virtual Storage

Software-defined Storage solutions like VSAN and leading storage integration (VAAI, VASA and now VVols) with a large group of industry partners ensure policy-based NFVI management without compromise. With Site Recovery Manager, VMware also offers a purpose-built solution for automated disaster recovery of VNFs or management components.

NFVI: Hardware

For over a decade now, VMware customers were provided with choices. And this still applies today: customers can choose whether they want to build their hardware infrastructure for NFVI or other Cloud Infrastructures on their own, if they want to make use of integrated and converged infrastructure offerings, or utilize the power of Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Appliances like VMware’s EVO:RAIL and EVO:RACK offerings. Again, the broad partner ecosystem ensures highest quality and choice at the same time.

NFV Virtual Infrastructure Manager and Orchestration

But NFV is more than just virtualizing existing network functions. Besides the previously described components for a solid foundation, it has become apparent that NFVI needs a holistic and integrated management approach to make the infrastructure easy to consume and operate. While VMware vSphere and vCloud Director have been available for several years now, VMware recently announced at VMworld 2014 the introduction of VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO). VIO will enable additional choice for VMware customers and offer OpenStack APIs for VNF Manager integration. It will also allow enterprises and service providers across the globe to leverage the power of VMware virtualization and enable out-of-the-box capabilities for OpenStack/IaaS APIs – all delivered by a single support organization.

In addition, VMware’s purpose-built vRealize Suite Cloud Management Platform includes all necessary components for intelligent operations, automation, business insight and unified management delivered as an open platform with third party integration and APIs.

Operational Considerations in Telco Cloud Environments

In addition to advancements in technology capabilities and the introduction of a new architectural paradigm, this progressive evolution in the Telco environment also introduces new people and process considerations. New roles and skill sets, along with the evolution of existing roles and skill sets, combined with the need for lighter-weight processes and appropriate levels of governance to maintain agility, are all key topics to address in order to realize the full benefits and value of NFV.

VMware has supported many large-scale cloud implementations and operations over the past years. As part of a global practice around “Operations Transformation”, VMware has also identified, captured and abstracted key lessons learned from these engagements – in private, hybrid and built-for-purpose cloud deployments, e.g. for service providers. With vCloud Air, VMware has its own public-facing cloud service that not only leverages VMware’s SDDC components but also its operational guidance. As a result, VMware’s Professional Services Organization offers several services to transform and optimize how organizations operate these highly dynamic and agile environments as an integral part of their journey to the cloud.

Summary

If you take a step back and look at VMware’s vision and execution around the Software-Defined Datacenter, you’ll recognize this to be the most reliable foundation for NFV in the entire industry. VMware’s intention is to provide best-in-class technology to enable a horizontal approach for NFVI and not deploy a cloud-labeled hardware stack as part of a vertical approach. With a VMware-based NFV platform, you’ll get the experience from the leading software company in IaaS, its broad and established ecosystem, as well as access to industry thought leadership for a Software-Defined Future.

This blog post is the result of the international collaboration inside VMware’s CTO Ambassador Program.  Thanks to Joe Baguley (CTO EMEA), Bhavesh Davda (Sr. Staff Engineer), Kevin Lees (Principal Architect, Global Operations Transformation Practice) and Shannon Schofield (Program Manager, CTO Ambassador Program) for their contributions!

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