Vodafone joins ONAP and signs up for VMware’s telco-grade OpenStack

Open source continues its march into the once well-defended telco equipment fortress. Large operators are getting increasingly engaged with the disruptive Facebook-led Telecom Infra Project, which seeks to establish an open ecosystem for the RAN. And support is also growing for network virtualization software solutions based on OpenStack and other open source initiatives.

Vodafone, for instance, made two parallel announcements last week – that it had joined ONAP (Open Network Automation Protocol), whose open source management and orchestration (MANO) platform is largely based on AT&T code; and that it will deploy VMware’s vCloud NFV as part of its virtualization and software-defined networking (SDN) program.

This is very important for VMware, which dominates enterprise virtualization, but has often been regarded as falling short of carrier-grade performance. Because of many operators’ mistrust of enterprise solutions to be up to the demanding requirements of telco networking, that telecoms industry has tended to develop its own solutions in MANO. However, there is considerable experience of VMWare in telco IT departments so it is logical for the vendor to target the rest of the telco business more effectively.

Vodafone is to use the vendor’s VMware vCloud NFV which is based around OpenStack and is a carrier edition of the existing VMware Integrated OpenStack (VIO) for enterprise. VMware said in its release: “The new vCloud NFV-OpenStack platform is integrated, tested, and certified with VMware’s NFV infrastructure platform. Using VMware Integrated OpenStack as an NFV Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIM), network architects can easily deploy, upgrade, and operate an OpenStack cloud on top of VMware’s carrier-grade NFVI platform.”

VMware already has 45 virtual network functions (VNFs) certified against its platform and claims it can offer integrated lifecycle management and fault management, on top of an NFV platform which it says is now fully carrier-grade. The company’s growth is built around an acceptance that open source, and OpenStack in particular, will be critical to future telco networks, and that it will have to compete with telecoms specialists as well as established enterprise open source players like Red Hat.

It is doing this by promising to reduce the complexity of OpenStack while adding telecoms-specific features – telcos’ main complaints about the open source platform have focused on compromises in telecoms-level functionality as well as the need to hire many skilled engineers to handle implementation, which can weaken the cost argument of an open system.

Gabriele Di Piazza, VP of solutions for the telco NFV group at VMware, told LightReading: “We are bundling it in our NFV platform. We believe that the combination of the underlying VMware infrastructure – the richness and capability, stability, high reliability, redundancy – all consumable and exposed through a telco-grade OpenStack API, will allow carriers to actually deploy services much faster in an OpenStack environment.”

Di Piazza also says that the solution simplifies the installation process and reduces the time involved to as little as half an hour, because there is tight integration with the underlying infrastructure. It can also be upgraded more simply, which should encourage operators to use the latest version and reduce fragmentation. And it is offering integrated management tools including analytics, fault performance, managed data, log management, root cause analysis and network topology.

Vodafone has also joined ONAP, bringing its significant experience of virtualization projects, particularly its massive Project Ocean SDN/NFV program, to that body. Fran Heeran, group head of network virtualization at Vodafone, joins the ONAP board and the experience of creating a central, global vision for a large group.

“The total number of subscribers served by ONAP members globally has now crossed the 50% threshold, to 55%,” Arpit Joshipura, general manager of the Linux Foundation, which hosts the initiative, told Light Reading, adding that ONAP is in active discussions with almost all of the top 50 global operators.

Some early movers on automation and MANO are considering how they might dovetail their own efforts with ONAP, which is based mainly on AT&T’s ECOMP technology and some elements of China Mobile’s OPEN-O. While ONAP’s first release was mainly focused on mobile operators and 5G, its next one – scheduled for mid-2018 – will be geared more to wireline-only carriers and business services.

Vodafone is the eighteenth company to join ONAP and the seventh network operator to be a platinum member. “ONAP is an interesting project,” said Rick Hornby, Verizon’s executive director for core network technology planning in a recent interview – though Verizon remains far closer to the rival MANO effort within ETSI, Open Source MANO (OSM).

And T-Mobile’s VP of network technology development, Karri Kuoppamaki, said that the MNO is evaluating ONAP and other platforms along with its parent company, Deutsche Telekom. “We don’t directly participate in these forums. We keep an eye on them,” Kuoppamaki said. “We haven’t seen the need yet to do that ourselves directly.”

Amdocs, which helped to develop ECOMP with AT&T and aims to establish a services business around it, recently announced its ONAP software and services portfolio, aiming to build on its first mover advantage. It says it will offer the commercially hardened approach to the lifecycle management of virtual services that is necessary to make open source platforms telco-ready. It has already worked with Bell Canada and Orange, the other main public adopters of ONAP.

The Amdocs ‘NFV powered by ONAP’ includes a modular set of capabilities including some in traditional Amdocs areas like active inventory, plus services to enable integration into existing back end systems, and a hosted development and test environment – all targeted at the perennial issues of simplifying implementation while ensuring it is carrier-class.

“Amdocs brings unique expertise derived from working with ONAP’s early adopters, including North American carriers that include Bell, and European carriers such as Orange, to help service providers drive value from virtualization and this offering lays the framework for additional carrier-grade enhancements as the ONAP code matures,” said Gary Miles, general manager at Amdocs. “Open source brings unparalleled agility and innovation to the market. In such a dynamic environment, it is important that the industry is able to package open source contributions into a mature capability set for live network operations.”