Ubuntu Linux firm Canonical is starting an interoperability lab to allow telecoms service providers to validate the capabilities of virtual network function appliances ahead of any deployment in a production environment. The move is intended to smooth the adoption of such technologies in the telecoms industry.
Canonical's VNF Performance Interoperability Lab (V-PIL) was announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and aims to provide independent performance testing, interoperability and validation of software appliances developed for network function virtualisation (NFV) deployments.
The need for such a facility was driven by the fact that NFV is a relatively new and immature market, and carriers are seeking reassurance that virtual network function appliances can deliver the required level of performance, and operate seamlessly and reliably with other network functions, according to Canonical.
"We recognise that the promise of NFV for the carriers is large, offering new services, new speed to market, more flexibility, and allowing them to compete in the way that Google and other internet companies operate," said John Zannos, Canonical vice president for cloud alliances and business development.
"But it brings a lot more complexity and a need for automation as well as a need to be comfortable that the pieces will work together."
NFV is still a developing sector of the market, but it aims to let communications service providers replace costly single-purpose hardware devices currently used in the operation of networks with virtual appliances running on banks of industry standard servers.
The intention is that it will enable network functions to be developed more rapidly to deliver new services, and help service providers to scale up network capacity to better meet peaks in demand by simply provisioning new instances.
However, while replacing hardware with software is fine in theory, the service providers need to be confident that virtual appliances will deliver the same quality of service under real world conditions and in their specific operating environment.
"To make this work, they just need to be more confident before they make a final decision, because they had that confidence before when they talked to Ericsson or Juniper or Cisco and actually bought a hardware appliance," Zannos said.
"What we're trying to do is give them a framework from early evaluation, where we can bring a catalogue of pre-defined virtual network function service models and use cases and fully automated test protocols that allow them to see they have an initial expectation that it should work before they fully exercise it internally."
The creation of V-PIL builds on Canonical's existing work with its OpenStack Interoperability Lab which likewise enables cloud companies to test hardware and software to gauge how it performs in cloud environments based on Canonical's Ubuntu OpenStack distribution.
This is no coincidence, as many firms in the communications industry have expressed an interest in using OpenStack as the management framework for operating virtual appliances, as it is not tied to a single vendor and has other advantages such as the ability to plug in modules to deliver specific functions pretty much to the customer's requirements.
However, Canonical said that V-PIL will not be tied to any specific software platform, other than using the firm's Juju tool that enables bare-metal provisioning of large numbers of physical servers to deploy the test environment.
Canonical is also not tying itself to any specific hardware platform, and has IBM's backing for V-PIL to help drive uptake of virtual network function solutions using the firm's Power-based systems and products from its OpenPower Foundation partners, for example.
Canonical will also send engineers to a service provider's site to help with testing on their own infrastructure.
"The reason we have this on-premise element is that we recognise that a carrier such as Deutsche Telekom really wants to confirm that a set of virtual network functions will work in the construct of how they have designed their network, and the only way to test that is to work collaboratively with them," Zannos said.
Deutsche Telekom is one of the partners Canonical announced last week that is already adopting OpenStack and other open source technologies.
The V-PIL is effectively initiated from today, according to Canonical, although there is no "big bang" launch, and the firm will now begin working with its partners to start operating the service in earnest.
"There's a real void here, and the market is moving fast, so the time is right to start helping these carriers with their NFV initiatives," Zannos said.
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