Yes, I used to play Pac-Man. And yes, the title of this blog refers to Marc Andreessen’s now famous quip that “Software is eating the world”. Marc’s famous statement came out in a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article published in August 2011. At the time I imagined software as a yellow Pac-Man running around in a dark maze eating whatever it can while escaping Blinky, Pinky, Inky and Clyde. The four main antagonists in the game are relentless, but from time to time, when played right, Pac-Man can eat a Power Pellet and then fight its antagonists.
About a year after Marc’s famous WSJ article, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) was announced. It too started with an article of a sorts (a white paper actually) and our entire Telecommunications industry began its journey from purpose-built boxes to software. VMware has been there from the get-go, helping the Telecommunication industry’s transformation and paving the way for the migration to software. We have provided our Telco customers with a carrier-grade NFV platform and supported them with openness and choices where they matter: our customers can pick their virtualized infrastructure manager of choice, decide on their servers of choice, and most importantly, pick from a massive ecosystem of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) that have been shown to work on our platform. The ecosystem program we run is called Ready for NFV. It is part of the VMware Ready partner program. Ready for NFV won industry awards and grew into a massive ecosystem encompassing many of the Telecommunication industry traditional and emerging suppliers. Our passion in operating the program has always been helping our partners and our customers with their journey to the world of software.
Today we announced our self-certification extension to the Ready for NFV program. Self-certification is like Power Pellets in Pac-Man – it reverses the roles and lets the player accelerate and, if played right, make it to the next level. We see the self-certification extension to the Ready for NFV program as four Power Pellets to fight the four classical antagonists in our customers’ transformation to software.
- Choice. Our customers are in different phases of their softwarefication journey. Some customers have been with us since early releases of our platform and many are still joining. This means that our customers operate different versions of our platform and different versions of their virtual network functions. By offering a self-certification extension we help the VNF vendor community verify that any version of their software is ready to quickly be deployed in any version of our customers’ Telco cloud.
- Agility. We see a beautiful effect in our Communication Service Provider customers journey to NFV and beyond. The first few migration projects take a while and are a learning phase for the organization: processes get tuned, operational aspects are ironed out and sometimes even the procurement process changes. Once this happens, we see a clear hockey-stick effect in VNF deployment which is another way to describe software transformation. With self-certification, we expect to see the hockey-stick appear earlier in the transformation journey since making sure a VNF will work with a vCloud NFV version is so much easier and quicker.
- Efficiency. The VMware Ready for NFV program has evolved over the last 4 years. These days the program focuses on educating VNF vendors on our platform capabilities. The process is considered successfully completed once the VNF has passed the rigorous certification tests we operate. We see that our partners want hands-on experience with our platform to follow our test plan and evaluate their readiness. By giving our partners a virtual lab that mirrors our Reference Architecture, we help them better prepare without needing a large hardware installation.
- Focus. Our Ready for NFV team has probably more experience on-boarding and deploying Virtual Network Functions than any other organization in the world. They already performed more than 120 certifications and have “been there, done that” many times. We wanted to allow our team to really focus on what our partners need the most – guidance when unique problems arise. By providing a self-certification program we can free our resources to help our partners with their unique and hard questions.
The process to use the self-certification program is as easy as one can expect from a software company. After joining our program our partners will be able to point their browser to a url, download a few artifacts, launch a remote desktop and onboard their VNF into our cloud. Once the onboarding process is successful, the partner selects the tests to be executed. The tests obviously are automated letting the partner know the progress. Once the tests are complete, the partner can decide on the next steps.
We made our Ready for NFV certification guide very transparent to all our partners. This means that once the tests are complete the partner will see a graphical representation of their success against the certification guide. If all is well, the partner will provide our team with the report bundle. Why don’t we just issue a certification automatically? We want to ensure that the program quality is maintained which is why an engineer in the Ready for NFV program will be reviewing the results. The same team responsible for creating the Ready for NFV certification guide, to answering partner questions and to collecting requirements from customers will also be the team evaluating the results of the certification. Quality is not something we are yet ready to completely automate.
Figure 1: Ready for NFV Self-Certification Progress Report
The Telecommunications industry is doubling down on software. In the last 7 years we adopted Virtual Machines as a way to deploy network functions. We are now embracing Containers to further increase the efficiency of software-based Telco workloads. 3GPP standards are written with software in mind such that transitioning from 4G to 5G networks is not possible without software. In the move towards software VMware is committed to supporting our customers to ease and accelerate their transformation. We will continue supplying our customers with Power Pellets so they too can win in their quest to reduce their operational cost and significantly reduce their time to market. Bon Appetit.