MANO for NFV ‘entering a new phase of turbulence,’ analyst warns

MANO is a framework for the management and orchestration of virtualized resources including computing, networking, storage and virtual machines.

The market for virtualized, software-based network services continues to evolve—though it’s by no means doing so in an ordered fashion, at least according to one analyst.

“Turbulence in the NFV MANO market is high; that can be good to shakeout problems, but it also makes for an uncomfortable flight,” noted David Snow, principal analyst of IP services infrastructure for Current Analysis, a wholly owned subsidiary of GlobalData, on the company’s Network Matter blog. “The NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) architectural block is a good indicator of the ‘flight status’ of the whole NFV project, which now seems to be entering a new phase of turbulence.”

Specifically, Snow pointed to SK Telecom’s recent announcement that it commercialized its T-MANO platform in an effort to more efficiently use its virtualized network equipment. Prior to the development of T-MANO, the company had to develop, build and operate a separate NFV management platform for each different network equipment provider due to the fact that their NFV equipment was built on different specifications depending on the manufacturer.

“With the commercialization of T-MANO, SK Telecom secures the basis for accelerating the application of NFV technologies to provide better services for customers,” explained Choi Seung-won, senior vice president and head of Infrastructure Strategy Office, in a release from the operator. “We will continue to develop NFV technologies and accumulate operational know-how for virtualized networks to thoroughly prepare for the upcoming era of 5G.”

GlobalData’s Snow noted that SK’s T-MANO reflects the fact that “some operators have decided to take matters into their own hands.”

Other operators, though, appear to be pushing that management and orchestration work onto a trusted vendor. Snow pointed to a recent announcement from Sonus that one of its unnamed carrier customers is using the company’s Virtual Network Functions Manager as the “agreed-to architectural solution because it enables advanced features based on specific knowledge of the VNF applications as well as support for the automation of complex VNF workflows.”

“While I believe a generic VFNM can provide vendor independence and is the right approach for certain applications, for complex, real-time applications like session border controllers and policy servers, it cannot deliver this goal of automation,” wrote Sonus’ Dan Teichman, the company’s senior product marketing manager, on the company’s blog. “At this time, a vendor-specific VNFM adds significant value over a generic VNFM and is really the only way to achieve much of the automation and service resiliency that NFV is expected to deliver.”

By using Sonus’ platform for the management of virtualized network functions, Teichman argued the company’s carrier customer would have access to features including auto scaling, auto healing and software upgrades.

Of course, Sonus isn’t the only company playing in this space, nor is it the only one working to sell its own platform for the management of virtualized network functions. For example, ECI in Israel just announced its own Open Source NFV Management and Orchestration (MANO), which the company said is an ETSI-compliant MANO offering that runs on its carrier-grade PaaS system.

"We are giving our customers a cost-effective, future proof and easy-to-implement solution, which they can use now to improve service agility, and for the demands of future IoT and 5G networks on the same open and flexible platform,” argued ECI’s Erez Zelikovitz, VP of the company’s SDN/NFV portfolio, in a release from the company.

The question of how to handle management and orchestration—whether through a vendor or internally—continues to bedevil network operators. It’s the same argument many have faced in the past with other technologies: build it or buy it.

“With AT&T unashamedly pushing ECOMP-fueled ONAP as the ‘de facto standard’ and China Mobile appearing to subsume its own MANO development into Open-O (and then also into ONAP), it’s easy to forget that some large operators are determined to sort out MANO by themselves,” Snow noted. “It’s a reminder that it’s actually operators who are ‘in charge,’ not vendors or even open source projects, however influential.”

Concluded Snow: “These instances are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of widespread NFV MANO turbulence that GlobalData is currently witnessing, as different and conflicting perspectives emerge from many quarters. In other words, NFV MANO turbulence is high. That’s not necessarily a bad thing longer term, since new and forgotten issues come to the fore for resolution, but it’s certainly uncomfortable shorter term,” he wrote, adding: “There’s certainly more NFV MANO turbulence to come before NFV’s original destination reappears on the horizon.”