Linux Foundation Announces Major Network Functions Virtualization Project

The Linux Foundation this morning announced the latest addition to a rapidly expanding list of ambitious open source initiatives that are seeking to transform the way the world does business. The newest project on the block is called the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV), and its mission is to develop and maintain a carrier-grade, integrated, open source reference platform for the telecom industry.

The project is launching with thirty-eight founding companies, including many of the largest IT companies in the world. Importantly, they include not only cloud and service infrastructure vendors, but telecom service providers, developers and end users as well. (Disclosure: my firm and I represent the Linux Foundation and OPNFV).

The list includes many familiar names. At the highest (Platinum) level, there are seventeen, including AT&T, Brocade, China Mobile, Cisco, Dell, Ericsson, HP, Huawei, IBM, Intel, Juniper Networks, NEC, Nokia Networks, NTT DOCOMO, Red Hat, Telecom Italia and Vodafone. The 21 Silver level members include Alcatel-Lucent, ARM, Broadcom, CableLabs, Citrix, ClearPath Networks, Orange, Sprint and Wind River.

The collaboration of such a broad array of stakeholders from the start is important for another reason: carrier grade software must be unusually robust, and the ability to rigorously test the transition of services from current platforms to virtualized cloud networks using comprehensive OPNFV platform instrumentation will be essential. The results of a successful transition are expected to be increased performance and power efficiency, and improved reliability, availability and serviceability. The initial focus of OPNFV will be on building NFV infrastructure (NFVI) and Virtualized Infrastructure Management (VIM) leveraging existing open source components where possible.

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The announcement of OPNFV highlights three of the most significant trends in IT: virtualization (the NFV part of the name refers to network function virtualization), moving software and services to the Cloud, and collaboratively developing complex open source platforms in order to accelerate deployment of new business models while enabling interoperability across a wide range of products and services.

The third of these trends is perhaps the most innovative and significant, in that it provides a way to short cut a process that previously – using standards alone – would make such transitions more laborious, lengthy, and uncertain. That’s true not only in isolation (i.e., within a given project), but systemically as well, since OPNFV will work in concert with other equally significant open source projects, such as Open Stack, OpenDaylight (another Linux Foundation project) and Open vSwitch to ensure that code can be integrated up and downstream in a growing, pervasive ecosystem of industrial strength open source code.

The press release issued this morning summarized that aspect as follows:

OPNFV will establish a carrier-grade, integrated, open source reference platform that industry peers will build together to advance the evolution of NFV and ensure consistency, performance and interoperability among multiple open source components. Because multiple open source NFV building blocks already exist, OPNFV will work with upstream projects to coordinate continuous integration and testing while filling development gaps.

The project is also significant for reflecting a growing recognition that open source projects need to incorporate open standards planning into their work programs from the beginning, rather than as an afterthought. Open source developers have always necessarily coded to relevant standards in the past, but there has been little collaboration between open source projects and standards development organizations along the way in order to optimize achievement of their respective goals. Here’s how the press release describes this new approach:

While not developing standards, OPNFV will work closely with ETSI’s NFV ISG, among others, to drive consistent implementation of standards for an open NFV reference platform. When open source software development is aligned with standards development, it can root out issues early, identify resolutions and become the de facto codebase, resulting in a far more economical approach to platform development.

Whether all of the many and similarly ambitious open source initiatives launched over the last eighteen months will fully realize their goals remains to be seen. But the rapid launch of so many initiatives will certainly help achieve another important goal: evolving the types of governance structures, best practices, and inter-project cooperation mechanisms essential to perfect this newest approach to the pursuit of interoperability, reliability and efficiency.

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