Sunday, December 3, 2017

MEF 3.0 - Transformational Global Services Framework

MEF, which is the industry organisation that first brought common service definitions to Carrier Ethernet, introduced its “Transformational Global Services Framework for “defining, delivering, and certifying agile, assured, and orchestrated communication services across a global ecosystem of automated networks.”

MEF 3.0 is essentially an umbrella term encompassing all the organisation’s previous and promoting its long-term vision of the “The Third Network” -- the first network being the Internet, the second network being business-class Carrier Ethernet services. The goal is to enable the dynamic applications of the digital economy to run seamlessly over multivendor, multicarrier networks.  MEF brings its existing body of work with Carrier Ethernet and its latest work in LSO (Lifecycle Service Orchestration) APIs to enable on-demand, cloud-centric experience.  Think of it as SDN+NFV operating in multicarrier domains according to a common set of specifications.

Certainly, the acronyms are a mouthful. Over the years, there have been doubters as well as to whether the work of the MEF was essential for the advancement of networking technology, or whether it was just another industry forum backed by a handful of industry players. With this latest MEF 3.0 iteration, the sweet spot of software-defined wide-area services is in sight – the automated, orchestration of services across multi-provider networks.

What is included in MEF 3.0

There are four spokes to the MEF 3.0 wheel
       
  • Standardized, Orchestrated Services - including Carrier Ethernet, wavelength, IP, SD-WAN, Security-as-a-Service, and other virtualized services that will be orchestrated over programmable networks using LSO APIs. MEF 3.0 CE R1 is the first release within the MEF 3.0 framework, while work on standardizing orchestration-ready wavelength, IP, SD-WAN, and security services currently is progressing within MEF.
  •         Open LSO APIs - MEF’s LSO Reference Architecture guides the agile development of standardized LSO APIs that enable orchestration of MEF 3.0 services across multiple providers and over multiple network technology domains (e.g., Packet WAN, Optical Transport, SD-WAN, 5G, etc.). MEF recently announced the first releases of two LSO SDKs (software development kits) that feature inter-provider APIs for address validation, serviceability, and ordering and an intra-provider API for network resource provisioning. The LSO APIs included in these SDKs are available for experimental use by MEF members and associated MEF programs.
  •         Service and Technology Certifications. MEF is increasing the agility of its popular certification programs to accelerate availability and adoption of MEF 3.0 certified services and technologies. Iometrix continues as MEF’s testing partner, but the certification process is now being virtualized and taken into the cloud. A subscription model will be used for that vendors and carriers will be able to certify that their services and technologies comply with the latest MEF 3.0 standards. This should speed up the certification process considerably from days to minutes.
  •         Expanded Community Collaboration. MEF is working with service and technology providers, open source projects, standards associations, and enterprises to realize a shared vision of dynamic services orchestrated across automated networks. MEF has created a new compute, storage, and networking platform – MEFnet – that enables development, testing, integration, and showcasing of prototype MEF 3.0 implementations using open source and commercial products. MEFnet projects will help accelerate the understanding and adoption of MEF 3.0, as well as provide immediate feedback for standards development within MEF.

Just last month, MEF announced a collaboration with The Linux Foundation’s Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).  Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), a Linux Foundation to jointly facilitate development of an LSO Framework and the creation of standardized open LSO APIs. This too aims to automate the “entire lifecycle” for services orchestrated across multiple provider networks and multiple network technology domains.

The accolades from MEF members are pouring in. In a keynote address at the MEF17 event in Orlando, Kevin O’Toole, Senior Vice President of Product Management, Comcast Business, described MEF 3.0 as a “pivotal moment for carriers - a generational leap”. He predicts that this common orchestration framework will reach maturity right at the time when big bandwidth pipes are reaching deep into the last mile. Comcast sees “transactional gigabit” connections being ubiquitous – meaning not only lots of bandwidth but smart bandwidth with the ability to transact with third-party networking services. He foresees rapid price compression matched with powerful new services.
A big carrier like Comcast, which soon will have DOCSIS 3.1 running in all its major U.S. market, certainly has sway to influence the market.  If they like MEF 3.0, that’s certainly a good omen.

Shawn Hakl, Senior Vice President Business Products, Verizon, said MEF 3.0 “covers the critical areas needed for the next generation of innovation in SDN/NFV based services,” and expressed confidence that this standardization of the orchestration of software-based services will help it launch new services with the visibility and control demanded by developers. The same type of positive feedback was also heard from CenturyLink, Windstream, GBI and Telecom Italia Sparkle.

Lots more work and convincing needs to happen

MEF has already standardized the orchestration of static Carrier Ethernet 2.0 services.  It is also ready to go with MEF 3.0 Carrier Ethernet services. However, we are still in the early stages for the orchestration of dynamic wavelength services. At MEF17, several proof-of-concept demos from optical transport equipment vendors and their service provider partners are on display. It’s good progress, but there is a significant distance between the proof-of-concept stage and mature carrier service. The same could be said for orchestrating dynamic IP services over the WAN – we’re not yet at the stage of standardized deployments. With SD-WAN services, the MEF has published common definitions, but again, it is everyone for themselves when it comes to orchestrating SD-WAN services with multicarrier interoperability. Eventually, MEF would like to add dynamic security services to its list of standardized capabilities.

Bear in mind that the ambition of this MEF 3.0 is all encompassing – a global framework. However, the MEF as an organization has been driven by Tier One operators in the U.S., including AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Charter, Windstream, Level 3, and CenturyLink. The notable international operators backing MEF include Colt, PCCW, PLDT, Orange, and Telecom Italia Sparkle. There are a handful of other carriers as members too, but this leaves out the majority of service providers, whose support is essential before we can say that MEF 3.0 has become the defacto global services framework. With Carrier Ethernet we can see a global adoption. MEF reckons there are about 150 companies – including 100 service providers – selling Carrier Ethernet 2.0 certified solutions. Together, these account for an estimated $80 billion in annual global sales of products and services. 

Now it’s time to see if the same traction can be found for MEF 3.0.


The other missing ingredient in this recipe for transformational global services is the presence of the global public cloud providers. It is one thing to orchestrated services, but to achieve that end-to-end vision there are bound to be many connections originating or termination in the hyperscale data centres of Alibaba, AWS, Fabeook, Google, or Microsoft. They will have to join the party too. 

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