Network Functions Virtualization: Into the Light

Brenden Rawle

networks

In the spring and summer of 1901, something unexpected began to stir in Barcelona’s art world. A strange malaise began to take hold of Pablo Picasso, one of the bright young artists of the European avant-garde. Gone were the vibrant and bright hues that had made his name, and in their place emerged a monochrome view of the world that spoke of melancholy and depression. The Blue Period had begun.

Today, the Museu Picasso in Barcelona contains perhaps the finest examples in the world of this seminal oeuvre of modern art that illustrate Picasso’s drive into darkness, then rise back into the light.

Cutting to this year’s Mobile World Congress (MWC), I see network functions virtualization (NFV) as coming out of its own Blue Period. Going back a year ago, to February 2015, the path to enterprise agility was upon us and NFV had enjoyed a trouble-free childhood. Service providers would soon be able to build, launch and customize new services in double quick time. Real-time consumption combined with optimized cost points pointed to a rosy future and barriers to entry were soon to tumble. But the rest of 2015 didn’t pan out that way. Concerns about NFV first aired at MWC 2015 and grew louder throughout the year, including “solutions not being carrier-class or carrier-scale,” “operational models need overhauling” and “service lifecycle needing a rethink.”

Most of us have seen this trend before. It’s the low after the hype; it is the natural reaction of an industry that is heading for a specific destination, but missed the bullet train and caught the overnight sleeper instead. Gartner coined this dip in its “Hype Cycle” as the “Trough of Disillusionment.” Sometimes a new technology takes years to climb out and sometimes it never emerges.

But fear not, there is good news. At MWC 2016, NFV was back with a bang! Virtual network functions were on display by everyone from Cisco to Citrix, and from Sonus to Sandvine. NEC went big with their vEPC (virtual evolved packet core), HPE made waves with their OpenNFV platform, PLUMgrid showed why they are making headway with their software-defined networking (SDN) controller solutions and Canonical launched the industry’s most comprehensive test-bed for virtual network functions interoperability. The most impressive demo this author saw was the multi-vendor vCPE (virtual customer premise equipment) solution from Vodafone, which included technology from Juniper, Fortinet and Amdocs.

So there was plenty of competition and plenty of debate, but all agreed on one thing: NFV services will thrive at the network edge, where the enterprise, Internet and public cloud converge, and interconnection is key and ecosystems flourish. It is the digital marketplace of the future which can be found today at Equinix.

It took Picasso three years to emerge from the Blue Period and rise into the light. NFV has re-surfaced in less than half the time. One wonders what the next few years will bring.