Thursday, June 18, 2015

Blueprint: Open Standards Do Not Have to Be Open Source

by Frank Yue, Senior Technical Marketing Manager, F5 Networks

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is driving much of the innovation and work within the service provider community. The concept of bringing the benefits of cloud-like technologies is driving service providers to radically alter how they architect and manage the services they deliver through their networks.

Different components from different vendors based on different technologies are required to create an NFV architecture. There are COTS servers, hypervisor management technologies, SDN and traditional networking solutions, management and orchestration products, and many distinct virtual network functions (VNFs). All of these components need to communicate with each other in a defined and consistent manner for the NFV ecosystem to succeed.

Source: Network Functions Virtualization (NFV); Architectural Framework

While ETSI has defined the labels for the interfaces between the various components of the NFV architecture, there are currently no agreed-upon standards. And although there are several open source projects to develop standards for these NFV interfaces, most have not matured to the point where they are ready for use in a carrier-grade network.

Are Pre-standards Solutions Premature?

In the meantime, various multi-vendor alliances are developing their own pre-standards solutions. Some are proprietary and others are derivations of the work done by open source groups. Currently, almost all of the proof of concept (POC) trials today are using these pre-standard variations. Each multi-vendor alliance is working in conjunction with the service providers to develop interface models and specifications that everyone within each POC will be comfortable with.

It is possible and even likely that some of these pre-standards will become de facto standards based on their popularity and utility. There is nothing wrong with standards that are developed by the vendor or service provider community as long as they meet these criteria: 1) the standard must work in a multi-vendor environment since the NFV architecture model depends on multiple vendors delivering different components of the solution. 2) The standard needs to be published and open so that a new vendor can easily build its component to be compatible with the architecture.

Looking at the first of these points, the nature of the NFV architecture is to be an interactive and interdependent ecosystem of components and functions. It is unlikely that all of the pieces of the NFV ecosystem will be produced and delivered by a single vendor. In a mature NFV environment, many vendors will be involved. One multi-vendor NFV alliance currently has over 50 members. Another alliance has designed an NFV POC requiring the involvement of nine distinct vendors.

This multi-vendor landscape drives the need for the second point, for the standard to be published and open. No matter what interface model is developed by each vendor and alliance, it still needs to be published in an open form, allowing other vendors to create models to integrate their solutions into the NFV architecture. It is likely that in the mature NFV ecosystem, some components will be delivered by vendors that are not part of the majority alliance that delivered the NFV solution.

No two service provider networks are alike, and there are close to an infinite number of combinations of manufacturers and technologies that can be incorporated into each service provider’s NFV model.  Service providers will require all of the components in the network to interact in a relatively seamless fashion. This can only be accomplished if the interface pre-standards are open and available to the technology community at large.

Proprietary, but Open?

A proprietary, but open standard is one that has been developed without community consensus. While the standard has been developed by a vendor or alliance of vendors, the model is published to allow anybody interested in developing solutions to incorporate the standard without the need for licensing, partnership, or agreement in general.

Proprietary, but open standards can be developed by a single entity or a small community working together towards a common goal. This gives these proprietary standards some advantages. 1) They can be created quickly since universal consortium acceptance may not be required. 2) They can be adapted and adjusted quickly to meet the changing and evolving nature of NFV architectures.

While open source projects and products have the benefit of being available to everyone, there are some tradeoffs for the design of technologies by open committee. Open source projects are always in flux as multiple perspectives and methodologies are competing for a universal consensus. This is especially true when working with standards developing organizations (SDOs). Because of this, standards often take years, instead of months, to develop.

In the meantime, the current NFV alliances can develop interface models that are successful in the limited environment of the alliance ecosystem. This rapid development also allows for the tuning of these interfaces as NFV architectures develop and mature. These proprietary, but open, models can be used as a template within the SDOs to develop a standard that has the benefit of being tested and proven in real-world scenarios.

No Model is Perfect

Ultimately, the standards that are developed will probably be a mixture of open source solutions with customized enhancements and open proprietary standards developed by these alliances. It is likely that individual vendors and alliances will enhance the final standards, adding their unique value to improve functionality and differentiate their solution.

In an ideal world, standards are fixed in nature and in time, but networks are evolving and technologies like NFV continue to evolve and mature. In this world of dynamic architectures, it is essential to have standards that are dynamic and proprietary, but open. This type of standard offers a solution that can deliver functions today and adapt to the models of tomorrow.

About the Author

Frank Yue is the Senior Technical Marketing Manager for the Service Provider business at F5 Networks. In this role, Yue is responsible for evangelizing F5’s technologies and products before they come to market. Prior to joining F5, Yue was sales engineer at BreakingPoint Systems, selling application aware traffic and security simulation solutions for the service provider market. Yue also worked at Cloudshield Technologies supporting customized DPI solutions, and at Foundry Networks as a global overlay for the ServerIron application delivery controller and traffic management product line. Yue has a degree in Biology from the University of Pennsylvania.

About F5

F5 (NASDAQ: FFIV) provides solutions for an application world. F5 helps organizations seamlessly scale cloud, data center, telecommunications, and software defined networking (SDN) deployments to successfully deliver applications and services to anyone, anywhere, at any time. F5 solutions broaden the reach of IT through an open, extensible framework and a rich partner ecosystem of leading technology and orchestration vendors. This approach lets customers pursue the infrastructure model that best fits their needs over time. The world’s largest businesses, service providers, government entities, and consumer brands rely on F5 to stay ahead of cloud, security, and mobility trends. For more information, go to

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