January 7, 2016

Top 5 Virtual Networking Predictions for 2016

laserNetworking is set to be one of the biggest growth industries for open source software development this year, and a key part of that is Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). Set to transform the way networks  are designed, NFV—an initiative to move to the cloud network services that have traditionally been carried out by proprietary, dedicated hardware—has seen explosive growth over the past few years, and that trajectory has only just begun. In fact, analyst firm Infonetics forecasts a fivefold increase in the NFV/SDN (Software-Defined Networking) market by 2019 with more than $11 billion in revenue. That’s huge.

The past year alone saw a tremendous NFV spike with more telecoms testing Proof-of-Concept (PoC) demonstrations to verify real-world applicability; more emerging use cases; and more interest and momentum outside the telecom space. NFV and SDN are on the precipice of reaching critical mass, set to change how networks are architected. Such a transformation is similar to the way in which server virtualization has changed how the internet is built. NFV is bringing the scale and elasticity of cloud architecture to networking.

The Linux Foundation-hosted Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) Collaborative Project, which was created just over a year ago to help address the growing demand for NFV functionality, is at the forefront of this transformation. Tasked with creating a carrier-grade, integrated, open source platform to accelerate new NFV products and services, OPNFV boasts 56 member companies (including top mobile, wireline and cable operators, chip vendors, and startups), a forthcoming second release and a successful inaugural Summit held this past November. The project’s swelling community demonstrates the hunger for agile solutions that meet evolving network demands.

NFV is poised to move into deployment in 2016. Armed with increased functionality, testing and interoperability—propelled by OPNFV—the market is primed for some bold and innovative milestones over the next year. Here are my top five predictions for NFV this year.

Top 5 Predictions for NFV in 2016

1.  Containers will become a key technology component in any NFV platform. Containers are very hot right now, and the heat extends to NFV/SDN. With many network operators beginning to look at more efficient ways to introduce VNFs, containerization offers an alternative to using VMs running guest operating systems and instead uses applications inside “containers” on top of Linux.

2. “NFV” and “SDN” will be top skillsets among telecom job seekers. With the explosive growth of NFV and SDN, there is ample opportunity for developers looking to invest in long-term career growth and we expect to see “NFV” and “SDN” top job searches on recruiting sites like Linux.com and Dice.com. Growing projects like OPNFV and the need for NFV chops among a growing number of service providers and other IT sectors, signal an uptick in developer engagement across the board.

3. The first (limited) production deployments based on OPNFV technology will go live. 2015 saw an increase in NFV proofs-of-concept (there are currently 38 NFV PoCs according to the ESTI NFV Industry Standard Group), which will ultimately lead to more deployments. And as OPNFV releases its second and third iterations of the platform in 2016, the technology will become mature enough for early deployments to leave the lab and enter production. Similarly, I  expect more tier-2 telcos and others interested in deploying NFV will join the party based on the ROI and best practices learned from the early adopters.  

4. OPNFV will attract its first non-telecom end user member. Both SDN and NFV are expanding beyond just the telco space, with a broad range of implementations outside the traditional telecom space. Enterprise IT, academia, research and financial services are all experimenting with NFV and as use cases grow, it’s only a matter of time before OPNFV’s member roster reaches into other sectors.

5. Higher-profile NFV-related service outages will occur, signaling a turning point in adoption. I  expect to see issues with new NFV-based services/products as they begin roll-out, particularly regarding scale which could impact performance or accessibility. While service outages may be challenging, they are a natural, evolutionary step for any new technology. As NFV moves out of PoCs and into deployment, there will be growing pains along the way that the industry will learn from. The silver lining is that any large scale outage signals that the technology is maturing.

Mass adoption is still very much a journey. The acceleration we’ve made over the past year-plus is an indication that the industry is ripe and ready. We’ve reached the tipping point; the key pieces are in place and the time has come to begin to execute.

Heather Kirksey is Director of NFV for OPNFV, at The Linux Foundation.

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