At the Mobile World Congress 2017, Huawei's NFV solution was honored with the Best Technology Enabler award. In an interview with Light Reading, Ma Haixu, the President of Huawei's Cloud Core Network Product Line, said, "Huawei's NFV solutions have been proven and improved in real-world commercial deployments all around the globe. They are industry leaders in terms of software architecture, industry collaboration, automated O&M, and commercial deployment." These four strengths mean that Huawei solutions have enabled NFV to "cross the chasm" into mainstream commercial use.
When network functions have been restructured using NFV, there are two major challenges to be overcome. The first is that the hardware infrastructure on which virtualized software runs does not have the same reliability and high performance as the dedicated hardware in traditional networks. The second is the increasing variation and uncertainty in network services. 4K HD video, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and soon ubiquitous connection and 5G, are all widening the gap between application demands and network capacity. VNF software cannot simply migrate existing architectures onto virtual ones. Instead, it must optimize the software architecture for a variety of different services and needs. The key factor in the success or failure of NFV commercial deployment is whether it can enable carrier-grade levels of quality assurance independent of the underlying infrastructure.
Since the beginning of 2013, Huawei has worked with global tier-1 operators. Applying the Cloud Native approach, we have introduced stateless design and (micro-)service architecture, and developed an innovative cloudification architecture. This architecture has been implemented in VNF software with a cloudified architecture, and the result has been network software which is elastic, robust, and agile.
Elastic: Fully distributed architecture to enable diverse future services, with resources available on demand so that user numbers and capacity never hit a hardware bottleneck. Virtualized network functions can be dynamically generated and quickly deployed, maximizing the usage of network resources. That enables the network to deliver differentiated levels of experience as required.
Robust: High reliability design principles and design for failure mean decentralized, multi-point failure tolerance for virtualized software. Together with big data active detection and self-healing mechanisms, these design approaches enable high reliability independent of the underlying infrastructure.
Agile: Cloudified networks are equipped to handle flexibility, diversity, and uncertainty in application scenarios, for a fragmented, long-tail market. Virtualized software can be restructured for delivery as a (micro-)service, enabling application developers to quickly and easily schedule and combine the services they need. This allows for fast, sustained innovation in applications, cuts the cost of experimentation, and helps mitigate uncertainty.
The decoupling of software from hardware is an opportunity to open up closed telecom networks, speed up the innovation cycle, cut the cost of operations, and create an open ecosystem. This is the essence of NFV. However, the integration of NFV networks inevitably encounters challenges in the compatibility, interoperability, and reliability of products from different vendors. This is particularly true when attempting vertical integration of underlying IT infrastructure and the top level of telecom services. So the realization of NFV will require the support of an open, cooperative ecosystem.
Huawei is one of the major contributors to the emerging industry of NFV technology. Huawei has made great efforts to build an open, healthy ecosystem, and has resolved many issues in multi-vendor integration through industry collaboration. Today, Huawei is working with over 20 major NFV vendors via our global network of Cloud Open Labs. These Open Labs offer NFV integration testing in environments certified by multiple vendors, and verification and pre-integration of software and hardware solutions. They can significantly reduce the risks in multi-vendor integration, cut deployment time, and enable fast delivery. All products and solutions developed by Huawei's cloud core network team are interoperable with and authorized by the major cloud OS vendors: RedHat, Ubuntu, and Windriver. This means that operators can select the portfolio of VNF software, cloud OS, and COTS hardware that suits them best, without any worries over compatibility risk during integration and deployment.
In December 2016, Huawei and partners including Cisco, Ericsson, and Nokia, established the NFV-ITI alliance, with the purpose of expanding interoperability testing and verification. We developed principles for NFV interoperability testing that would meet the needs of customers in real network scenarios.
Huawei has experience integrating commercial networks from vendors around the world, and it has developed a suite of automated deployment tools to support the analysis, network design, deployment, and testing phases. These tools enable automated network planning, one-touch automated installation, end-to-end performance tests under simulated heavy voice traffic conditions, and high reliability testing. They have dramatically reduced integration risk and improved efficiency.
To help speed up the emergence of a mature NFV ecosystem, Huawei has also been an active contributor both to NFV technology and to the setting of industry standards. Huawei is one of the leading contributors in ETSI NFV ISG, OPNFV, ONAP, OpenStack, Docker, Hadoop, and Spark.
When you decouple hardware and software, or virtualize software, you make your networks more flexible and agile, but the complexity of systems and O&M also increases. For example, when hardware and software are decoupled, diagnosing a fault becomes much more complex, as the thousands of VMs or microservice nodes mean a vastly increased number of points of failure. If the old O&M model were maintained, the labor inputs would grow geometrically as the size of the cloud network increased.
To simplify O&M, Huawei first of all developed a client offering a single visualized interface for management of multi-layer, heterogeneous networks. With this system, O&M engineers can easily monitor an NFV system without a disruptive change to their way of work. At the same time, a range of new technologies have enabled automated deployment, on-demand resource provision, and fast fault recovery and self-healing. They include multi-layer alarm correlation, KPI-based self-healing, smart queuing and traffic controls, and orchestration of heterogeneous network resource pools. With these technologies, cloudified networks can enjoy agile, smart O&M.
As of June 2017, Huawei has signed contracts to deliver over 200 NFV core networks around the world, and more than 40 of those NFV networks are already in commercial use.
In August 2016, the Huawei CloudEdge solution helped the Indonesian operator XL overcome the performance challenges associated with high traffic on virtualized media. Within just three months, the operator was able to put the Asia-Pacific region's first 100 Gbit/s NFV network into commercial use. In September of the same year, the Huawei CloudEdge solution enabled Vodafone Spain to roll out the world's first standard NB-IoT network and begin B2B service innovation. The rollout was fast, low cost, and used service orchestration to adapt to the frequent changes in the 3GPP standards. In December, the world's first microservice architecture CloudPCRF network was accepted and switched on EE in the UK. On the new network, the average time for introducing new control policies was cut from 3 months to 2 weeks.
NFV technology is only in its infancy, and there are still many challenges to widespread commercial deployment. Developing this technology will require the concerted efforts of an entire industry. The Huawei cloud core network team remains committed to the principles of openness, collaboration, and shared success, so it is actively innovating to enable NFV to achieve large-scale commercial use. Huawei will help operators globally to build cloud infrastructure, use cloud technology, and develop cloud services, so as to achieve success in their own cloud transformation.