OPNFV – Two Years In

OPNFV logo For anyone reading this who has been a parent, you will know that the most surprising thing about toddlers is how fast they change. You go away for a couple of weeks of business travel, and when you get back, there’s a different person waiting for you when you get home. And two years old is about the time when the rate of change is at its peak.

That is what OPNFV feels like now: we have navigated the early teething issues and reached a state where there is lots of change and lots of progress. We have labs on every continent, many active projects developing new NFV related functionality, three platform releases, and increasing industry interest. Two and a half years ago, NFV was a promising architecture concept. Today, operators are putting NFVi platforms into production, thanks in part to the work of OPNFV.

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Upstream First: Turning OpenStack into an NFV platform

NFV (Network Function Virtualization) has taken the telecommunications world by storm in recent years. Communications service providers plan to run their core services in virtual machines, running on a standardized, open source platform. This promises to reduce both capital and operation costs, and most importantly, to accelerate the delivery of new services to market through increased agility.

The Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) project is deploying a collection of open source projects, including OpenStack as the Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer, OpenDaylight and Open vSwitch for virtual network, Ceph for virtual storage, and libvirt and qemu/KVM for virtual compute. OpenStack and OpenDaylight are themselves collections of multiple projects, each with their own set of maintainers. All told, the OPNFV platform consists of around 20 different projects, many of which will need to be changed to satisfy the performance and reliability constraints of an NFV platform.

How vendors make and distribute those changes will vary from one to another. Some participants will attempt to maintain differentiation by developing features in private, and integrating them in their products without ensuring the changes will be integrated into the upstream open source projects. Others will propose changes at the same time as they are released in a product.

Red Hat is a company with a policy we call “upstream first” – we work to get features integrated into open source projects before we integrate them into our product offerings. Wouldn’t it be easier just to develop features for our customers, and let the upstream projects figure out what they care about? What are the costs associated with the upstream first approach? Why do we take this approach?

The short answer is because it is the cheapest, most sustainable way to innovate on an open source platform. To explain why, I will explore what it means to build on top of open source projects, the different approaches people take to doing it, and the costs associated with each approach.

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Red Hat Joins the OPNFV Project as Platinum Founding Member

In recent years, the telecommunications industry has looked toward Network Function Virtualization (NFV) to revolutionize the way that telco services are developed and delivered to customers. A "network function" is any service that acts on the data passing through the network. In the typical datacenter, this would include services like a firewall, a VPN endpoint, or an intrusion detection system. In the telco industry, network functions also cover voice, data and internet services, broadband and cellular network services, and the delivery of video content, such as streaming TV.

Traditionally these network services have been provided by big, expensive, custom-built servers that require a multi-year investment for the network operators, so progress tends to be in fits and starts because previous investments are amortized before replacement features are deployed.

By moving the operation of these network services to virtual network functions (VNFs) running on a private cloud platform, on industry standard high-density servers, NFV enables operators to deliver customer-facing services more easily and faster. DevOps can finally come to the deployment of network services.

The Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) project launched earlier today on opnfv.org as an industry-wide effort that includes network operators, network equipment providers, platform vendors, and hardware vendors working together to create a reference platform for NFV. The goal is to take existing open source projects such as OpenStack, OpenDaylight, DPDK, libvirt, and KVM, and identify any areas where we can improve these platforms to enable the deployment of network services.

As a founding member of the project at the highest Platinum level, Red Hat recognizes the project’s potential to change the telco industry, and is committed to bringing the company’s strengths to the table in support. One of the key challenges for the project will be to ensure that code developed for NFV is submitted and accepted upstream in the relevant projects, and Red Hat has a wealth of experience upstream in these communities and in affecting change across a number of projects.

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