ETSI NFV Telco Cloud-native Executive Roundtable at NFV#43 Plenary

(September 18th, 2023 Copenhagen)

On September 18th, during the NFV#43 plenary meeting, executive leadership members and technical experts from major operators, telco vendors and cloud providers were gathered together to share their companies experience on building the Telco cloud, to discuss the future of this concept, to provide their perspective on how NFV standards could help and/or how they should evolve in this context.

The roundtable started with ETSI ISG Network Function Virtualization (NFV) chair, Yoshihiro Nakajima’s opening speech. Yoshihiro introduced that during the past 10 years, ETSI NFV has provided 100+ specifications and 10000+ contributions, which help 90% of the operators worldwide to successfully move their business onto a modernized, virtualized cloud environment. Recently, ETSI NFV has continued to provide solutions on new key areas including Containerized NF (CNF), green NFV, physical infrastructure management and NFV Service Based Architecture (SBA). Especially for containerized NF support, NFV has published a set of new specifications defining the requirements and solutions for lifecycle management of CNFs, templates, interfaces of Container as a Service (CaaS) and container cluster management.

Research Director from Analysys Mason, Gorkem Yigit, shared his observations of the industry afterwards. Firstly, he explained that cloud-native for Telco is not simply about using containers; considerations such as DevOps, operational changes and automation must also be considered. Observing the market, there are different paths towards cloud-native networks now, i.e., vertically-integrated network cloud, DIY private cloud and public cloud provider led cloud, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the moment. His suggestion for the operators is to take a bottom-up approach to cloud-native automation: utilizing K8S based infrastructure, while building a Telco specific upper layer which can provide an E2E network view, evaluation, validation, AI optimization functionalities to enhance the K8S capabilities. And ETSI NFV could play an important role in defining such upper layer.

First half of the roundtable then focused on operators’ experience in building the telco clouds and views on future evolution.

Juan Carlos Garcia, SVP of Technology Innovation and Ecosystems from Telefonica Group initiated this part of the presentation. Telefonica believes the network will become a wide area cloud in the future, and the telco cloud is the main pillar to enable their future business capabilities. Leveraging network and IT functions, and integrating computing, AI/data, security capabilities, telcos would be able to expose and monetize these capabilities in a uniform way, creating healthy ecosystems for the development of new services towards the end customers, along with new business opportunities. To achieve that, Telefonica thinks it’s important to build a consistent hybrid multi-cloud solution, and the automation and orchestration of this “Multi-provider Container Cluster Management” layer should be the focus of ETSI work.

Pål Grønsund, Director of Cloud Strategy and Architecture from Telenor Group shared their thoughts and strategies on Telco cloud-native developments. Telenor has followed ETSI NFV standards to build its telco cloud and enjoyed a lot of benefits like cost efficiency, automation, shorter TTM. Towards the future, Telenor thinks various aspects need to be considered for the cloud-native transition, including technologies, operations, way of work, and lastly ecosystem and partnerships. Making everything available in as-a-service delivery model is the key mindset of flexibility, efficiency and automation. Talking about their public cloud first strategy, Pål mentioned for certain workloads, there are still challenges on regulatory, security, cost and performance that need to be addressed.

Emmanuel Chautard, SVP of Innovation Networks from Orange, France described their future plan on Telco cloud. There are four main transformation axis for Orange’s Network Play action: resilient, software & data enabled network; high performing domestic network; NaaS & slicing at scale; and green & energy efficient networks. And Orange is moving to a horizontal model built around Sylva project and, Orange internal IaaS/CaaS, as well as opportunistically vendor’s infrastructure and potentially cloud providers in the coming future for use cases to be defined. They believe this move will bring benefits on agility, scalability, resources efficiency and cost optimization. It should support Orange’s top line as well through best addressing customers’ needs.

Keisuke Suzuki, Director of Network orchestration and automation from Docomo, Japan presented their achievement in NFV adoption. Docomo has virtualized over 80% of its core network currently and expects to fully virtualize it till 2025. The main challenge now includes lacking end to end (E2E) automation, integration of various components and processes through day 0, day 1 and day 2 operations and re-skilling its network engineers. To meet these challenges, the role of standards is significant, and collaboration among different organizations is needed. Besides, advanced technologies such as generative AI, digital twin and intent driven management could be further studied and incorporated in ETSI’s work.

The first half of the roundtable ended with an online survey and open discussion chaired by Janusz Pieczerak, vice chair of ETSI NFV. The survey includes four topics on bare-metal container deployment strategy, ETSI NFV’s container related specification working priority, requirements on automation and AI capabilities. The results showed that most attendees would like to upgrade their existing Telco clouds to simultaneous support bare-metal and virtual machine-based container solutions. Among the existing specifications, lifecycle management of the CNFs, and templates for them are of the most importance, container cluster management and CaaS interfaces need further work as well. On future directions, automated service design gained most supports and AI workload scheduling and AI infrastructure standards are the top choices for features to support AI/ML business.

After these attractive surveys, presenters from NEC and Huawei shared their view on future evolution in the 2nd half of the roundtable. Hammad Zafar from NEC illustrated the vision of multi-cloud continuum for Telco networks, discussed key considerations and challenges in realizing the E2E Telco cloud continuum, and highlighted the role of ETSI NFV in this transformation by exploring SBA, E2E coordinated orchestration technologies. He further pointed out that close coordination with opensource communities through mutual events and Proof of Concepts (PoCs) can play an important role in closing any potential gaps between NFV standards and cloud-native open-source technologies. Haopeng Zhu from Huawei described the key features of Telco cloud-native concept, i.e., carrier grade Service Level Agreement (SLA), convergence solutions of Virtual Machine (VM)/container/Bare Metal (BM), intent based operations and combination of AI and cloud technologies. He suggested ETSI NFV could follow a step-by-step approach, to make a good foundation of container support in the short-term, and achieve hyper-automation through intent management, new architectures, and move towards AI-native in the long-term.

Prof Mohammad Zoualfaghari from Amazon Web Services (AWS) also spoke and explained their support for NFV and practices on zero-touch orchestration and intent-based network automation in the last presentation.

At the end of the roundtable, a panel discussion was held, being moderated by the vice chair of ETSI NFV, Hui Deng, and where Juan Carlos, Keisuke, Mohammad, Janusz and Terje Jensen, SVP from Telenor joined. The panelists discussed whether there are fragmentations of the cloud-native solutions in the industry, the relationship between standards and open source and how NFV could better support AI. For the 1st topic, thereis a common understanding that the industry is now fragmented, and standardization is clearly needed. Working with open source, aligning requirements and be adaptable to changes could be some of the ways to resolve this issue. Among the main driving reasons for operators to adopt open source, were highlighted the acceleration of the standardization progress, vendor lock-in avoidance and the creation of new services more quickly to meet customers’ needs. But there are still drawbacks like lacking long-term support, regulation challenges, hard to standardize, which are preventing widely commercial usage. And for AI, all agreed that it will bring benefit to Telco cloud, and building an open and healthy ecosystem is necessary for the success.

Finally, all the panelists gave their wishes to ETSI NFV, hoping that NFV will continue to lead the success of Telco cloud-native, solving gaps and help operators embrace the changes.

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