OpenStack digs for deeper value in telecoms, network virtualization

NFV can be a major OpenStack application, which is great for telecom, but will enterprises go for it, too?

OpenStack digs for deeper value in telecoms, network virtualization
Credit: Geralt

OpenStack has long been portrayed as a low-cost avenue for creating private clouds without lock-in. But like many projects of its sprawl and size, it's valuable for its subfunctions as well. In particular, OpenStack comes in handy for network function virtualization (NFV).

A report issued by the OpenStack Foundation, "Accelerating NFV Delivery with OpenStack," makes a case for using OpenStack to replace the costly, proprietary hardware often employed with NFV, both inside and outside of telecoms. But it talks less about general enterprise settings than it does about telecoms, a vertical industry where OpenStack has been finding uptake.

The paper also shows how many telecom-specific NFV features -- such as support for multiple IPv6 prefixes -- are being requested or submitted by telecoms that are OpenStack users. 

That's not to say the telecom tail has been wagging the OpenStack dog, but it does mean that some of OpenStack's most urgently requested -- and most immediately adopted -- features come from that crowd. It also raises the question of how readily those features will be deployed outside of telecoms, especially given OpenStack's reputation as fragmented, friable, and difficult to learn.

OpenStack's presence in the telecom world has been established for years now. A user survey conducted back in 2014 showed that while the number of companies using OpenStack that described themselves as telecommunications companies were proportionately small, the companies in question were high-profile in their field (NTT, Deutsche Telekom).

In the most recent user survey, self-identified telecom comprised only 12 percent of the total OpenStack user base. But the 64 percent labeled "information technology" also included "cable TV and ISP," "telco and networking," "data center/co-location," and other labels that could easily be considered part of a telco's duty roster.

Network function virtualization is the second-largest OpenStack technology its users are interested in, according to the survey. The technology that took the top spot, however, was containers. That's where OpenStack vendors (such as Mirantis and Red Hat) are making their most direct appeals to the enterprise, but it's still an open question whether a product of OpenStack's size and cognitive load is the best way to do so.

To that end, even if OpenStack is a major force in NFV, the bigger question is whether enterprises interested in NFV/SDN (the two terms overlap) will adopt OpenStack as their solution. Some of the mystery may be due to how the changes involved in deploying NFV are a bitter pill for an enterprise of most any size to swallow -- but it may again come down to OpenStack still being too top-heavy for its own good.

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