Expert Q&A: Breaking the SDN/NFV Hype Cycle with Orchestration (Part 1)

In this Q&A with one of NetCracker’s SDN/NFV experts, we take a hard look at the hype cycle and cut to the chase on what Orchestration is and why operators need it to move SDN and NFV’s promised benefits from myth to reality.

From Mobile World Congress in February through TM Forum Live! In June, the hype around SDN and NFV has intensified and expanded exponentially. The market is rife with disinformation that may have a tendency to obscure the market’s actual maturity; the readiness of the technology; the need for practical management solutions; and what the actual end-state business goals should be. In this Q&A with one of Netcracker’s SDN/NFV experts, we take a hard look at the hype cycle and cut to the chase on what Orchestration is and why operators need it to move SDN and NFV’s promised benefits from myth to reality.

Q: SDN and Virtualization are hot topics, especially among mobile operators who want to simplify their network management, expansion, and capacity management challenges. Have operators stopped and thought about how virtualized networks will be managed?

A: There’s a need for network and service management here that many operators recognize, but don’t necessarily have a complete grasp of yet. This is why we’ve introduced our end to end Network and Service Orchestrator for hybrid networks. By hybrid networks we mean those that are partially virtualized, and partially not virtualized – or traditional networks. Whenever operators introduce virtualized functions in their networks, they will still have to keep existing, traditional networks and existing integration mechanisms in place. At the same time there are additional new approaches to integrating virtualized parts of the networks. So, Netcracker – along with NEC – introduced an end-to-end Orchestrator which helps manage these hybrid networks in a unified fashion. Also, it serves as a platform for the upper stack – OSS and BSS – and helps to provide new services and new fulfillment processes on top of the virtualization technologies in the network and data centers.

Q: How did Netcracker foresee the need for this kind of end-to-end orchestration capability?

A: Back in 2011, when NFV became possible thanks to the evolution of commodity computing and new programming methods like Intel DPDK, NEC began investing heavily in building its own virtual network functions. A year later Netcracker began building our orchestration solution. It was a natural role for us not only to strengthen NEC’s leadership position in the NFV market, but also to be able to provide a full stack of solutions that solves customer challenges in all layers. We began running proofs and concept and lab trials with customers early on. Throughout this time, we have seen new, pure virtual network silos are being built with their own software, controllers and systems next to the existing traditional network. As a result of these distinct silos, many operators are again running into a “swivel chair” approach that eliminates most or all of the benefits and opportunities that SDN/NFV brings. Some of our customers built these silos and only later realized that there’s a gap which stops them from going into production. Ultimately, that’s what spurred the need for end-to-end orchestration.

Q: So, is this Orchestrator a new stack or stand-alone management environment?

A: No, this is a converged solution, not a standalone product. As a result, we can introduce an orchestration layer incrementally and enhance functionality and integration while keeping existing systems in place without building everything from scratch. The value in having a converged orchestrator is that the co-existence of services is as important as the co-existence of networks. Remember that both traditional and SDN/NFV-based services form product bundles that appear as offerings on an operator’s corporate website. Our orchestrator features a converged service layer, or a service creation environment, which unifies the unique aspects of services that must traverse these hybrid environments. A stand-alone system likely would not fulfill these very practical needs.

Q: What makes this Network and Service Orchestrator different from other management platforms out there?

A: We believed all along that we were bringing the first end to end orchestrator for both SDN and non-SDN networks to market – a truly unified solution. Our conversations with analysts and customers are bearing that out. There are many SDN vendors in the market and they provide many controllers and a lot of hardware, but there is still a question about the practical use of SDN and NFV networks. So, Netcracker and NEC have this joint solution that introduces this orchestration layer that is end to end and which goes down to the network regardless of whether it is legacy or virtualized and, in turn, supports the ongoing transition to a more virtualized state.

Q: What’s a major difference between a solution for a hybrid, virtualized environment as opposed to a traditional network and service environment?

A: One of the key components that makes this solution work effectively is that it is is fully meta-model driven. While that was a “nice-to-have” requirement in traditional OSS/BSS solutions, it is a “must have” for orchestration.  In such a rapidly changing area, the system has to adapt quickly and support new integrations, new virtual infrastructures, and new network functions. This meta-model approach is why we were able to introduce support of all major emerging technologies so early in the game. We also designed this solution to be open and standards compliant from the start, so by the time we announced this solution, it already had many of the characteristics one would typically find only in very mature OSS and BSS solutions.

This Q&A continues later this week. In Part 2 we address NFV services, service fulfillment challenges, and policy management's role.