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Service orchestration required to bring all the NFV and SDN complexities into synch

06 October 2014

Service orchestration will be at the heart of managing NFV but it is new and poorly defined. What’s needed is a clear definition that takes into account the number of relationships between components and systems and recognises that service orchestration will be complicated. Co-sponsored feature: Comptel

Read more: NFV virtualisation Comptel SDN OSS telecoms equipment

Simon Osborne: There will be friction between groups because
there is no right answer at the moment 
Although some in the industry consider the orchestration of network function virtualization (NFV) to be already defined, the reality is that development is still very much in progress. The traditional standards bodies have been defining building blocks for many years but in the background, start-ups have been pressing ahead with development. They are working at two different paces but trying to collaborate.

"It’s a very exciting time, redefining the management platforms for these next generation services, determining what is necessary, while trying to learn from the mistakes of the past," says Simon Osborne, the CTO for fulfillment at Comptel. "Common sense and pragmatism in this approach needs to be applied as well, but there will be friction between groups as currently there is no right answer. Comptel sees that as driver for what’s interesting: change a little bit, transform, but be mindful of learning from the past. It’s a matter of addressing the revolution (of services) but through an evolutionary approach."

"As for what service orchestration is, NFV service orchestration was just a box a few weeks ago – with the industry trying to find a way to define it," adds Osborne. "If you open the box and look at what it really is, the functions are really traditional and include: order management, activation, reporting and others - in fact all the elements we’ve seen in the past. One notable absence is inventory. In the existing stack, inventory is at the heart but for NFV and SDN with their more dynamic and hybrid virtual and physical natures, it seems to be harder to define. The jury is out on what the role of inventory is within evolving standards."

Osborne draws parallels with previous efforts around active product catalogues which delivered levels of agility previously unseen in telecoms, but which relied on one IMS and one SDP. "We’re seeing the same with SDN and NFV," he says. "There’s a land grab between the network equipment manufacturers (NEMs) and the IT infrastructure vendors who are contending to perform the same functions. The reality is there will be multiple architectural layers which will have to come together in order to realise the opex and capex benefits of NFV and SDN."

However, the promise of NFV and SDN is in the enablement of temporary services – short-lived propositions that are flexibly launched and retired. "The focus for Comptel is in the creation of a management platform that supports temporary services that will last for minutes, hours, weeks and not just years," explains Osborne. "That’s very different to the old style of technology that was conceived around traditional work order transaction paradigms. This new approach is sometimes referred to as real-time OSS, and by definition is a far more dynamic, on-line, personalised and temporary environment."

That challenges OSS platforms in a series of ways and pushes old models and vendors to get new, high potential services deployed and live. But beyond that first step of enabling new services to go live, additional challenges include how to integrate into other existing processes to monetise and create value from the new services. For those used to the traditional approach of create, delete and modify actions, the flexible nature of new services that are not tied to traditional functions is a substantial transition.

On the discussion of the role played by existing fulfillment solutions, they represent a linear way to manage services and traditionally provided by OSS and IT players. Orchestration is essentially fulfillment but for a dynamic service environment, so will the role uncertainty between NEMs and IT vendors lead to a more defined decoupling of IT from network equipment? Osborne sees that as an advantage for software providers like Comptel. "The value proposition Comptel brings is vendor independence and neutrality around these new plays," he says. "There is capability in operators’ stacks to manage multi-vendor services but how do you orchestrate, deliver and assure them ? A key question is whether a single orchestration stack is required or whether orchestration is required down to lower level multiple silos, leveraging the NFV portfolios provided by IBM, Nokia or others. Is there the capability to master orchestrate for everything?"

Osborne points out this has never worked in the past and there has never been an extended management platform from one NEM, which confidently integrates with and fully utilises every other vendor inside an operator. He warns the same fragmentation could still be repeated in NFV and SDN environments.

"The risk is that history will be repeated for SDN and with NFV. The jury is still out as to whether a single orchestration layer across these multiple silos will be achieved," he says. "The reality is there will be different NFV management stacks and different SDN control stacks and orchestration will be the glue needed to integrate them and enable the full value of B2B and consumer services on NFV and SDN."  

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