Starter Kits Offer NFV On-Ramp

As with any new technology, there is the inevitable chasm between the engineering developers (tasked with implementing innovative technology) and the marketers (tasked with getting it out into the market). Network Function Virtualization (NFV) continues that trend. What the term actually means, and how it is implemented, has resulted in frenzied activity in the vendor marketing and sales department, but hasn’t exactly put customers’ IT departments at ease. In most cases the ‘open solution based on standardized hardware’ moniker comes with so many strings attached that best-of-breed combinations are practically out of the question. It’s mostly an open ride in a one-horse town.

Clearly, standardizing the hardware platform forces IT hardware vendors to rethink their marketing and pricing strategies. How can you charge a premium for a commoditized product? What does the revenue stream look like if vendor loyalty drops off a cliff? Typical policy realignments include: adding more service components to the hardware delivery like Cisco, hiving off less profitable parts of the business like IBM, joining the virtualization wave like EMC and Citrix, or presenting end-to-end solutions where all components are from a single manufacturer supplemented with components from closely allied partners.

Dell emerges in this last category based on its breadth of products, its competitive pricing, and established presence in the corporate market — something that only an HP (counting both parts of the yet-to-be-(re)born company) can really match.

Dell is also an active contributor to the Linux Foundation Open Platform for NFV Project, which is tasked with designing an open source reference platform for NFV technology. There are two main criteria that must be met in order for the Linux Foundation to host a Collaborative Project:

  • The use of open source governance best practices including license and contribution agreement choices must be in keeping with the ideals of Linux, and
  • The project must have the potential to fuel innovation in an industry through collaborative software development.

Dell has assembled a serious platform starter-kit to launch its NFV technology push – hoping to instil more confidence in its ability to scale and actually be cross-platform compatible, and not just present vendor lock-in at a higher level of abstraction.

The Dell NFV platform consists of servers (the NFV starter kit offers Dell’s PowerEdge R630 rack-mounted server or the Dell M630 blade server), storage and Dell’s S6000 switches with Dell management software (Active Fabric Manager, Active Fabric Controller, Dell Foglight and OpenManage Network Manager) as well as open source elements (Linux, Open Daylight, OpenStack and the software defined network (SDN) stalwart of OpenFlow). The open-for-business and integration readiness is emphasized by its bare-metal Open Networking data center switches that run OS from Cumulus Networks and Big Switch Networks as part of the platform.

Potential customers can start small with just a single server handling specialized applications, gain experience and then build out from there. However, sticking points remain: the Open Source reference platform is not yet finalized, so changes may still need to be made; the ability to converge with public or hybrid cloud services needs careful planning and provisioning; and the reliance on several Dell management packs raises questions about just how open and easy to deploy the starter-kit actually is.

So clearly, there are pieces missing, but as starter-kits go, it does offer an on-ramp, not least for service providers who want to walk the talk, and gain own experience with NFV alongside their experimentation with SDN.