The emerging deployment landscape for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) technology is still evolving, but it looks clear that open source efforts, including OpenStack and OPNFV, are likely to play a leading role.
Today, OpenStack vendor Mirantis announced a new initiative with partners Citrix, Metaswitch and Overture Networks to help accelerate NFV enablement. The effort will make use of technologies from the Linux Foundation's OPFNV project as well as the OpenStack cloud platform.
The OPNFV project is nearing its one year anniversary after being launched on September 30, 2014.
"OPNFV is an effort to produce reference implementations and a testing platform for NFV on all open source software," Jay Pipes, Director of Engineering at Mirantis, told Enterprise Networking Planet. "OpenStack is the infrastructure layer (NFVi) of the larger NFV architecture, which includes the virtual network functions themselves, higher level orchestration systems, and operational and business support systems."
Pipes explained that the actual "bits" for one of the OPNFV reference architectures are a combination of Mirantis OpenStack (for the infrastructure) and non-OpenStack open source software, like OpenDaylight and Ceph, that are other pieces of the NFV system.
Kamesh Pemmaraju, Mirantis Product Marketing VP, added that his company has been a silver sponsor of OPNFV since the fall of 2014 and recently renewed its sponsorship for 2015.
As a platform, OpenStack already has a networking component with the Neutron project, which enables Software Defined Networking (SDN). According to Pemmaraju, NFV is not a subset of functionality for Neutron. In fact, Neutron isn't really the focus area for all but a few of the NFV efforts.
"At its heart, NFV is all about virtualizing the network function hardware that previously has been expensive to acquire and operate as well as difficult to modify," Pemmaraju said.
He added that the NFVi part of NFV -- i.e. the infrastructure that runs the virtualized network functions -- is actually primarily dependent on the OpenStack Nova project, which provides the framework for exposing virtual compute resources from commodity off-the-shelf hardware.
Pemmaraju explained that in addition to OpenStack Nova, the OpenStack Heat orchestration project is a critical component to the NFV architecture, since much of the benefit of virtualizing network functions comes from the flexibility to increase or decrease the network function load on demand as customer's needs change. In order to automate the changes in deployed virtual network functions, an orchestration service is required, and the OpenStack Heat project is one such service.
"In addition to OpenStack services like Nova, Heat, and Neutron, the NFV movement is also dependent on innovation in the lower-level Linux networking stack and supporting projects like OpenVSwitch and DPDK, which is why Mirantis is investing in these non-OpenStack projects," Pemmaraju said.
The idea of using OpenStack as a platform for NFV is not a new one and has been publicly discussed at multiple OpenStack Summits by large carriers, including AT&T. Pemmaraju noted that Mirantis is building an ecosystem of enterprise and carrier NFV partnerships so that customers can build a complete NFV solution on top of Mirantis OpenStack.
"Much of this work has been driven by our customer engagements with customers such as AT&T and Ericsson," Pemmaraju said.
From a product perspective, Mirantis is not offering a new OpenStack distribution that is specifically built for NFV, but rather a hardened configuration of Mirantis OpenStack that is compliant with the emerging ETSI-NFV reference architecture.
"This initiative will add critical, carrier-grade features to Mirantis OpenStack, plus build an ecosystem of validated partner VNFs (Virtual Network Functions), associated management and orchestration tools, and related solutions around Mirantis OpenStack," Pemmaraju commented.
Looking at the timeline for the optimized NFV Mirantis OpenStack platform, the current plan is to have features available as part of the upcoming Mirantis Liberty release of OpenStack. The upstream OpenStack Liberty release is currently scheduled to become generally available on October 15, with vendor distributions typically following within several months.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.