Our upgraded Ensemble NFV suite hit the market last week. It includes several key enhancements focused on enabling service providers to roll out software-based, cloud-native solutions at scale. The new release is based on our wealth of virtualization experience that comes from overcoming issues and bringing the benefits of NFV to live service provider and enterprise networks over the last three years.

We’ve enhanced all of the key elements of the Ensemble portfolio, including Ensemble Connector, Ensemble Orchestrator and Ensemble Director. But what’s most interesting for our customers is the radical improvements to management and orchestration (MANO) that our Ensemble suite now provides. In particular, the new release is a genuine game changer for NFV management. That’s why we see it as putting the M in MANO.

Knocking down the barriers to NFV deployment

As an industry we have been on the path to deploying NFV for almost five years, and we have had to overcome a number of barriers to deployment.

First we had to overcome the issues with performance on small servers. We could get better performance with large servers, but that blew up the cost model. With sophisticated programming and tools like DPDK we were able to close the gap between cost and performance.

Next we had to make the commercial model work for everyone. The initial virtual network functions (VNFs) were sold for as much (or more) than their appliance equivalents. Clearly, that is not what the operators had in mind when they invented NFV. Now we’re seeing innovative PAYGO and shared risk/reward models.

The last big barrier is management. Service providers want to know how they can efficiently deploy uCPE based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) servers. How can they quickly turn up, manage, and troubleshoot virtualized services? How can they give their customers the advantages of virtualized services, such as service on demand? Answering these questions means putting a big emphasis on management.

Management of devices, software, networking and services

NFV brings operators many advantages, but there is a cost in terms of complexity. Closed and monolithic appliances are replaced with layers of components running on an open platform. Each of those layers must be managed to provide a unified whole.

The uCPE host is where the service starts. It’s composed of an open COTS server and NFVI software providing a network operating system. Efficient deployment relies on zero touch provisioning (ZTP), with no requirement for an on-site technician in an ideal model.

Next comes security. Multiple components means multiple attack surfaces. We must tackle security threats at each layer – including networking, NFV infrastructure, virtualization, management and application. 

Part of the security puzzle is networking. Operators run their networks with strict separation of user traffic and internal management traffic. At the same time, they want to minimize any requirements for additional physical interfaces or IP addresses at the edge of the network. That means sophisticated networking capabilities in the uCPE, independent from any VNF networking.

Another standard operator requirement is to support fail-safe software upgrades, which means keeping two copies of the software and configuration, and being able to revert to an older version if needed.

Also vital in NFV deployments is the service chain. The service chain enables operators to create a service by selecting multiple VNFs, distributing them across a range of locations, and connecting them by networking. Service assurance is also required in a manageable system and operators must be able to visualize, monitor and troubleshoot the service chain. 

The service chain configuration and ZTP described above have two clear phases: design and deployment. The design phase includes tasks such as onboarding VNFs, designing services, defining ZTP operation, and other complex and infrequent tasks. The deployment phase covers the tasks that occur each time operators create or change a customer site or service. It includes the per-site configuration items that can be handled manually or tied into flow-through provisioning. Separating isolates the infrequent and complicated tasks from those that are done each time a service is instantiated.

Time to achieve your NFV vision

The Ensemble team has been working on NFV for over five years, and has been deploying solutions for over three. During that time, we’ve tackled the management issues listed above and provided innovative solutions to our customers. Major service providers are now leveraging Ensemble to help realize their NFV strategies. We have helped to simply and efficiently virtualize service delivery for new revenue generation, and that is what sets us apart. Through multi-vendor NFV implementations, our customers are now delivering lucrative new services and enabling end users to harness the advantages of the cloud. We have led the way in NFV innovation, and we have learned the hard way from deployments. Now we’re applying that experience to closing the management gap by putting the M in MANO.