Disseminating new technology in an existing network infrastructure for which it was not designed is a difficult thing. In most cases, the assumption is that the technology at the heart of the new approach is the hardest nut to crack. This may indeed be the case, but another significant set of hoops to jump through is how the business and operational pieces fit together.
The TM Forum deals with those secondary -- but vital -- issues through its Catalyst and Zoom programs. Catalysts are proof of concept programs. Zoom (Zero-touch Orchestration, Operations and Management) projects are aimed at developing NFV and SDN standards and best practices.
The goal is to create the landscape into which these technologies will fit. In other words, the TM Forum aims to make this happen in the real world.
"The TM Forum is about collegial development of standards and best practices," Barry Graham, the senior director of Agile Business & IT for the organization, told Telco Transformation. "We are doing a lot of work on the impact of NFV, SDN and 5G. Where we tend to focus is more on the business aspects. Other groups focus on the bits and bytes. Our core issue is where digital service providers make money out of this out new technology.”
The TM Forum currently is featuring two projects -- one a Catalyst and one a Zoom -- that are aimed at enabling a smooth network evolution.
The NFV Ecosystem Enabler
The NFV Ecosystem Enabler is a Catalyst program that seeks ways to enable NFV functions to be handled as if they are physical assets. In the physical world, there is a real and tangible match between hardware and software, which generally are deployed together. This does not occur in the NFV world.
The big challenge, according to Ashis Sarkar, a director of systems engineering for Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), is making sure that getting NVF functions up and running is as straightforward in the virtual world as in the physical. This is particularly challenging in an ecosystem in which there are many small players.
The goal of the Catalyst NFV Ecosystem Enabler is working out ways in which the entire lifecycle -- and just about everything connected to it -- is conducted in a standardized, known, predictable and repeatable manner.
Creating an NFV universe in this way ensures that products can be onboarded quickly and do the job for which they are intended without diverting resources or wasting time. This standardization extends through entire use of the NFV by the service provider, including delivery, deployment, use, management and retirement. The goal is to enable incorporation of NFV functions -- onboarding -- in one day.
"If we can standardize and make VNF comply to standards, it gets very easy for operators to use it," Sarkar said. The process should, he said, be "as easy as downloading open source software."
The Ecosystem Enabler covers three silos: marketplace, catalog and deployment blueprints; service design and creation environment and deployment, orchestration and lifecycle management.
The best place to wrestle with these issues is Catalyst, Sarkar said. It is a place, he said, "where can we share ideas without getting into competitive issue. We all have similar problems in different ways."
Project Lily, a Zoom project, is the other side of the same coin, Sarkar said. Project Lily is aimed at simplifying the inventorying of NFV and SDN functions and enabling network administrators to understand precisely what they do, how to track and store them and how they will interact with other virtual and physical elements in the network.
"Lily is about how to manage virtual assets once they are instantiated and running," Sarkar said. "We will not have a purely virtual world soon. During the next five or ten years we will have a physical and virtual world together. Lily is about how to model the information for the inventory for a connected to physical and virtual world."
An example of the problem Project Lily is confronting is enabling virtual consumer premise devices, virtual routers and other real and virtual gear from different vendors to work together immediately and seamlessly. Standards to do this do not yet exist, according to Sarkar.
The TM Forum recently announced it was working on uniting the various open source communities for the good of the telecom industry. That effort will include a Catalyst project early next year. (See Seen & Heard: TM Forum Seeks to Unite Open Source.)
— Carl Weinschenk, Contributing Editor, Telco Transformation