August 27, 2014

NFV is More That Just Technology

The role that the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) plays in the development of NFV gets a lot of attention.  The role of the TM Forum - not so much.  For those who aren't aware of the organization, the TM Forum came into existence as the OSI/Network Management Forum in 1988 with the goal of solving the systems and operational management issues that were associated with the OSI protocols. The name was changed to TeleManagement Forum in 1998 and to TM Forum in 2013.  A non-profit organization, The Forum has over 900 member companies, including more than 250 communications service providers and a growing number of enterprise organizations.

Earlier this month I had the chance to talk with Ken Dilbeck, TM Forum's Vice President of Collaboration R&D, about TM Forum's role relative to driving NFV.   Ken said that the traditional role of the TM Forum has been to provide a place for members to come together and solve common problems, with a focus on management challenges.  The TM Forum also assists its members by providing a repository of knowledge, case studies, tools, standards, training and best practice advice.

Ken added that the TM Forum is leveraging its past work, such as its Business Process Framework, to help members partner with each other to find ways to respond to the challenges associated with SDN and NFV.  When I asked Ken how the role of the TM Forum differed from the role that ETSI is playing he said that there is a lot of overlap in the membership of the two organizations and that the members encourage the two organizations to play complementary roles.  

In terms of the specific roles each organization is playing, ETSI has taken the lead in terms of creating an architectural framework for NFV and in defining the key terminology.  ETSI is also supporting a number of Proof of Concept (PoC) and the TM Forum has contributed multiple PoCs to ETSI.  An area where both organizations are heavily involved is management.   However, the focus of the two organizations is very different.  As pointed out in the ETSI document Network Functions Virtualisation - Update White Paper, ETSI's interest in NFV management and orchestration "Focuses on the virtualisation-specific management tasks necessary in the NFV framework."  In contrast, the TM Forum focuses on the challenges of end-to-end management and service enablement in general, and on the challenges of creating SLAs, monitoring performance and monetizing services in particular.  

As mentioned, the TM Forum has contributed to the work that ETSI is doing to drive PoCs.   The TM Forum's contributions are the result of the Forum's Catalyst program which drives short-term collaborative projects led by their members.  One such project that the Forum contributed to ETSI is entitled Orchestrating SDN and NFV while Enforcing an SLA over a WAN.  The project demonstrated the use of a cloud orchestrator with OpenStack integration to provision a virtualized network topology while monitoring and enforcing SLAs via OpenFlow across a legacy MPLS WAN.  The project also demonstrated how virtual machines can be managed by monitoring SLA information.  The project was done in partnership with the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) and it involved a number of other players, including AT&T, Verizon, Bank of America, the Commonwealth Bank and Cisco.

The last twelve months saw a lot of interest and the activity around NFV and the next twelve months will see more.  The ETSI NFV group just elected new officers and is positioning itself for what many are referring to as NFV Phase 2.  At the same time, the TM Forum is working on a number of projects including developing best practices for DevOps, creating guidelines for NFV readiness and developing additional PoCs.

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