What operators really want from SDN and NFV suppliers

Openness, technical innovation, achievable orchestration and simple software licenses all on operator shopping list. And there's more...

Operators used the morning keynote session at SDN and NFV World Congress to ask vendors to provide more technical performance innovation, openness, interoperability, differentiation and simple and decomposed licensing terms.

The SDN and NFV conference, which now has 1,500 registered attendees and spreads its tentacles through the labyrinth of The Hague’s World Forum, heard on the first morning from speakers from Deutsche Telekom, KPN, Vodafone and Verizon.

Axel Clauberg, Deutsche Telekom, while saying that the software defined operator was now a reality and no longer a buzzword, added that there was still work to do. Notably this included making sure that apps were truly cloud native, rather than being just virtualised. The telco cloud requires a lot more availability and integration to the network than the sort of East-West traffic you see in datacentres, he said. That requires a different level of optimisation of telco apps to be truly cloud native.

“It sounds easy but a lot of apps are struggling with onboarding because the vendors didn’t go through the work of re-architecting app to make them cloud native. So this work is still going on,” Clauberg said.

Additionally, Clauberg said that it is becoming apparent that the telco datacentre is not a standard datacentre, and made a big call for the role of the Open Compute Project to bring newly optimised racks, servers, storage, and networking platforms to market.  There’s also more work required to “get CPU horsepower on the street” – with greater network I/O optimisation.

Another request from Clauberg was for the industry not to get bogged down on solving the big, complex problems in one go before committing to deployment. He referenced the desire some have to scope out  “uber-orchestration” that brings high levels of network abstraction and complexity. Instead, the industry should put smaller level work for cloud management into live production and work with what it learns, growing towards the end goal.

This was echoed by KPN’s Andre Beijin, Head of Network Innovation who agreed that the industry doesn’t have to tackle the most difficult work first. Beijin said that as the technology is not ready yet for full scale deployments and because people in the operator do have the skills required, it is best to start small and grow. He even said that operators might have to be prepared to discard some initial work on how cloud telco instances are managed and orchestrated. In other words, it could be trial and then throw away.

In terms of technology prompts Beijin foregrounded the role of SON as a key enabler of the network operations automation – saying advanced SON capabilities would be a prominent requirement in the future network, merging together network and IT departments.

Vodafone’s Matt Beal added his voice to Clauberg’s in asking for cloud native VNFs and apps. “Vodafone wants every supplier to have a roadmap committed by which they reach cloud native.” He also said that Vodafone absolutely saw the need for stateless operation, and expected vendor support for that. Stateless VNFs require a separated data layer, so that VNFs no longer need to manage their own data and will run only the required service business logic. Beal said this separate data layer gave the operator big advantages in deriving analytics to manage the programmable network.

Shawn Hakl of Verizon was perhaps the most assertive. His shopping list included the demand that vendors first of all accept that x86 based architectures do work and do scale. “Don’t claim it doesn’t – it works, deal with it”. Also, vendors must deal with interoperability amongst themselves. “Sort this stuff out before showing up at my door”, he said. He also said that if you claim to support something (say like the TOSCA orchestration language) then support it natively – don’t ask for a translator.

Sorry – if I sound like I am on a diatribe then that’s because I am, it’s the number one area I don’t feel like paying for and yet people keep coming to me and asking me to do so.

Hakl said: “It’s like if I was asked to speak at this conference in Swahili and said, ‘Sure I speak Swahili, as long as you pay for an English to Swahili translator’. So don’t say you support it and then expect me to pay for the translation. Or if you do, be prepared for me to own the IP and for your deployment to be non-replicable. Sorry – if I sound like I am on a diatribe then that’s because I am, it’s the number one area I don’t feel like paying for and yet people keep coming to me and asking me to do so.”

He added that vendors must be prepared to break software licenses into functions that customer want to buy, and that “can be integrated with other people’s stuff and into Pay As You Go usage based models”.

This request was echoed by Neil McCrae of BT, who asked for vendors not to turn into “geniuses in software licensing”. Keep it simple, he said, “I urge you not to go down the route of a large US-based database provider who got really hurt by it.”