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ETSI gets closer to open source bodies as OPNFV enriches platform

Standards body ETSI has been a critical contributor to the spread of virtualization and SDN in telco networks. It is the home of several initiatives which have turned into key foundations of the new software-driven telecoms network, notably NFV (Network Functions Virtualization), OSM (Open Source MANO or management and orchestration) and MEC (Multi-access Edge Compute).

However, as open source methods become increasingly important to operators via initiatives like OpenStack and the Open Networking Foundation, some argue that the processes of the traditional standards body are outdated and too slow. Even in areas where ETSI has done the groundwork, nimbler and wider open ecosystems are often taking up the baton.

The Linux Foundation-hosted ONAP (Open Network Automation Protocol) has attracted broader operator support than ETSI’s OSM in a key area of virtualization; while the OPNFV (Open Platform for NFV) is pushing some boundaries which ETSI itself has not done. And there are multiple edge compute activities, from the Cisco-driven OpenFog Consortium to work within Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project and OpenStack itself, which could diminish the importance of ETSI.

However, there are plenty of question marks over the open source model too. Vendors are often confused as to how they can differentiate and make money if they contribute their core IPR; there are issues of quality control and fragmentation. Standards bodies may be slow and too subject to the influence of powerful interest groups, but they provide a collaborative environment and a unified platform with well understood (if hotly disputed) licensing models.

The likely outcome is that both types of organization will work together on the platforms which will surround 5G, and hopefully this will result in the best of both worlds, not the worst. Already, TIP has introduced a licensing model for contributors which do not want to go the full open source route, while ETSI is adopting some quasi-open source processes for some of its activities like OSM.

At a recent conference, the Layer 123 NFV & Zero Touch World Congress, Luis Jorge Romero, director general of ETSI, acknowledged that the body was having many discussions about how to work with, or learn from open source, both internally and with open source communities. “We need to entertain this discussion because I agree with you, this has not happened,” he said, in answer to an audience question. “We’re trying to improve this communication, this relationship.”

For instance, OPNFV and ETSI now co-locate their NFV testing events, and will hold the next one between May 29 and June 8 in ETSI’s base in Sophia Antipolis, France. The aim is to increase collaboration between ETSI standards processes and the Linux Foundation-hosted OPNFV. Testing will include ETSI use cases and will focus on interoperability of the OPNFV platform in deployment, network integration and VNF applications. A virtual central office (VCO) demonstration will be a centrepiece, covering residential services and a virtualized mobile network use case, including virtualized RAN and packet core for LTE.

Don Clarke, chief architect at CableLabs, an author of the original ETSI NFV paper, and a founder of OPNFV, said: “The faster we get all these forum standards done, the faster we are going to be able to create interoperable solutions that do really cool things.” In other words, formalized standards are important to provide a unified base, on which more open organizations and individuals can innovate and build new services and business models.

Meanwhile, OPNFV has unveiled its sixth platform release, whose headline features are more mature cloud native integration and improved testing facilities. Called OPNFV Fraser, the release is designed to create a better bridge to the cloud provider ecosystem.

The group says it has increased support for cloud native applications and also offers better access to NFV infrastructure-on-demand, to ease deployment and testing of NFVi, virtual network functions (VNFs) and network services. The team has also enhanced  OPNFV’s capabilities in functional, performance, stress and benchmark testing.

“Since inception, OPNFV has been the place for industry collaboration with upstream communities, which has grown even more with the Fraser release,” said Heather Kirksey, VP of community and ecosystem development at The Linux Foundation. “With more mature cloud native integration and expanded testing and collaboration, OPNFV delivers the tools needed for end users to validate and test new network services.”

The project said that Orange and China Mobile have both used OPNFV’s continuous integration (CI) pipeline and testing projects to create an NFV onboarding framework. Orange uses OPNFV for NFVi and VIM validation, VNF onboarding and validation, and network service onboarding. China Mobile uses OPNFV for its Telecom Integrated Cloud (TIC) to continuously integrate, onboard and test NFVi, VIM and VNFs.

The seventh code release, Gambia, is due out at the end of this year or early 2019, and will include Cloud-RAN, ONAP-automation, edge cloud capabilities and the Capstone certificate management service.

The main updates, according to OPNFV, are:

  • Advancing support for cloud native NFV from basic container orchestration to include operational requirements; doubling the number of supported Kubernetes-based scenarios and integrating additional technologies from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF).
  • More mature testing, with a focus on the real world deployment needs of service providers by expanding test case coverage and scope. Functest now permits use of its framework with other open source projects such as ONAP.
  • Continuous Integration updates to enable increased community hardware use, which in turns speeds up the testing process.
  • New carrier-grade features in the areas of monitoring, service assurance, networking and data plane acceleration. These include the Doctor project, in conjunction with OpenStack, which adds an infrastructure maintenance use case for zero VNF downtime; and the Barometer project, which expands the monitored items list and plugin support.
  • The SFC, SDNVPN, FastDataStack and Parser projects have all added new features around networking and data plane acceleration.
  • The IPv6 project now supports clustering, simplifying network configuration, and is exploring IPv6 container networking.
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