Is OpenStack Enough to Support NFV?

“One area receiving a lot of focus this cycle is NFV (Network Functions Virtualization). We’ve started an upstream NFV sub-team for OpenStack that is tracking and helping to drive requirements and development efforts in support of NFV use cases […] The main consumers of NFV are Service providers (telecommunication providers and the like) who are looking to accelerate the deployment of new network services, and to do that, need to eliminate the constraint of slow renewal cycle of hardware appliances, which do not autoscale and limit their innovation. […] The opportunities for OpenStack in the NFV space appear to be huge.”

“Juno Preview for OpenStack Compute (Nova)” by Russell Bryant, reposted on Red Hat Stack.


Left: with CloudBand’s Guy Shemesh at Alcatel-Lucent’s Tech Symposium’s demo station.

Right: Bell Labs “Networked Cloud” demonstration presented at Tech Symposium – Silicon Valley.

I just finished listening to Red Hat’s Nicolas Lemieux and CloudBand’s Idan Green who delivered a 30 minute webinar on OpenStack for NFV. This is worth watching. Here is the link to CloudBand’s NFV Mashup Series, which is hosted by Valerie Noto. On that webpage you will find this and 9 other presentations at the time of posting this article.

imageToday’s webinar reminded me of a Bell Labs project that we unveiled at Mobile World Congress in 2012 and further developed for Alcatel-Lucent’s Tech Symposium Silicon Valley. Bell Labs’ “Networked Cloud” PoC (Proof of Concept) helped illustrate benefits behind distributed “cloud-and-network” systems while taking full advantage of CloudBand’s management system and cloud nodes.

I ended up conducting quite a few demonstrations of this project for network operators, industry and financial analysts because predictive analytics fueled with smart algorithms cleverly figured out where to best place a given load anytime. This exercise factored both cloud nodes and network capacity, resource optimization practices, and the actual application requirements and load impact, coupled with deterministic behaviors subject to SLA (Service Level Agreements).

There were several use cases worth considering. Demonstration wise, it made sense to first focus our conversation on the one that could be best visualized and experienced. As an example, sudden demand growth led to the automatic spinning of VM (Virtual Machines), onboarding the right applications, instantiating and deploying a given service (enterprise productivity and collaboration applications for that one demo), and scaling in the process.

  • This scenario’s narrative talked to taking down silos and gaining visibility to improve both server utilization levels and network capacity, all under a centralized management system such as CloudBand. This assumed dramatically shorter lead times, more efficient power consumption and subsequent higher ROA (Return on Assets). Though, the wow factor was delivered by operating under QoS (Quality of Service) parameters, such as latency constrains with a SLA in place, being the result of intelligently placing loads at the edge of the network, closer to the end user for performance sake.

  • Concepts such as monitoring, data correlation, predictive analytics and service continuity would come to the surface under a second use case. Worth emphasizing that both use cases take advantage of the distributed nature of the networked cloud paradigm, which the above map (right screen) helped visualize as the demo progressed.

  • This second use case showed what specific node-and-link combination would be best performing at the time of re-instantiating an application. The objective was to prevent service degradation when network traffic worsens for any reason. There were A/B comparison scenarios facing the same issues, such as a network link being compromised.

  • “A” showed the known behavior of a conventional architecture where the user experience would either be negatively impacted or, alternatively, addressed by means of costly and lengthy over engineering and, therefore, extremely poor and self-defeating ROA. 

  • “B” presented the benefits of distributed systems under the “networked cloud” paradigm, where performance was sustained in an unparalleled cost efficient fashion with loads dynamically placed and relocated as needed; all being back-end stuff that is completely transparent to the end user.

More recently, our EPC (Evolved Packet Core) team conducted a similar NFV demonstration at Mobile World Congress 2014 where the end user’s mobile experience featured video streaming instead. NFV’s distributed architecture is key to also managing not just service continuity and self-healing, but also: resource isolation in multi-tenant environments, security, RAS (Reliability, Availability and Serviceability) and overall service delivery and lifecycle assurance under SLA.

Some other use cases are related to regulatory compliance, which can involve: lawful intercept, local data protection mandates, as well as regional coverage requirements and engineering for no-single-point-of-failure.


Source: courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent and Red Hat. CloudBand’s NFV Mashup Series #10.

FOSS (Free Open Source Software) is becoming a de-facto standard in the telecommunications industry. Some years ago, my team used Euclyptus to deploy and manage cloud computing infrastructure. We needed to create a number of virtual machines and that initiative helped with working on a hybrid AWS-compatible (Amazon Web Services) environment. When projects became more focused on communication networks we then took advantage of CloudStack, which is also positioned as turnkey IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). Here is a link to a presentation discussing CloudStack in the context of NFV.

More recently, OpenStack has made significant inroads in this nascent space and is part of trials for virtual: CPE (Customer Premises Equipment), CDN (Content Delivery Network), DNS (Domain Name System), AAA (Authentication, Authorization, Accounting), SBC (Session Border Controller), EPC (Evolved Packet Core), and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem). In many cases NFV’s MANO (Management and Orchestration) interfaces directly with OpenStack and in some others that is the application’s EMS (Element Management System, or virtual equivalent) job, depending on the workflow.

So, is OpenStack enough to support NFV? I addressed Bell Lab’s “Networked Cloud” research demo as an example where “OpenStack-as-is” does not happen to be yet equipped to address NFV’s own challenges. To be more specific, we are talking about those presented by distributed carrier cloud systems, sophisticated networking, more complex transactions, CPU intensive packet processing and high availability in multi-tenant environments.

As discussed by Nicolas in today’s webinar, NFV injects workload dependencies spanning: control and data planes, signal processing, storage; and more strict requirements for performance, determinism and RAS. These items impact projects shown in the upper part of the above graphic and there are OpenStack Foundation teams looking into these:


Table source: OpenStack NFV Use Cases. 

Note that Red Hat is also addressing KVM (Kernel Based Virtual Machine) as the open source hypervisor, which creates and runs the VMs; supports libvirt for node management APIs beyond what’s provided by hypervisors; and works with DPDK, Intel’s Data Plane Development Kit with the drivers to accelerate packet processing on x86 platforms.

What follows is the architecture of our integrated joint solution aiming to bring together the best of carrier and IT (Information Technologies) worlds with NFV in mind. This also takes SDN (Software Defined Networking) into consideration.


Picture source: courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent and Red Hat. See CloudBand’s NFV Mashup Series #10.

“Both companies are creating the basic building blocks of a distributed cloud based on OpenStack and the foundational infrastructure for a best of breed open NFV Platform. Red Hat and CloudBand are set to help accelerate NFV for service provider networks.”

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