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OPNFV's releases reflect the evolving needs of the telcos  

The Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) is increasingly focused on supporting cloud-native technologies and the network edge.

Heather KirkseyThe open source group, part of the Linux Foundation, specialises in the system integration of network functions virtualisation (NFV) technology.

The OPNFV issued Fraser, its latest platform release, earlier this year while its next release, Gambia, is expected soon.  

Moreover, the telcos continual need for new features and capabilities means the OPNFV’s work is not slowing down.

“I don’t see us entering maintenance-mode anytime soon,” says Heather Kirksey, vice president, community and ecosystem development, The Linux Foundation and executive director, OPNFV. 


Meeting a need

The OPNFV was established in 2014 to address an industry shortfall.  

“When we started, there was a premise that there were a lot of pieces for NFV but getting them to work together was incredibly difficult,” says Kirksey.

Open-source initiatives such as OpenStack, used to control computing, storage, and networking resources in the data centre, and the OpenDaylight software-defined networking (SDN) controller, lacked elements needed for NFV. “No one was integrating and doing automated testing for NFV use cases,” says Kirksey.


I don’t see us entering maintenance-mode anytime soon 


OPNFV set itself the task of identifying what was missing from such open-source projects to aid their deployment. This involved working with the open-source communities to add NFV features, testing software stacks, and feeding the results back to the groups.  

The nature of the OPNFV’s work explains why it is different from other, single-task, open-source initiatives that develop an SDN controller or NFV management and orchestration, for example. “The code that the OPNFV generates tends to be for tools and installation - glue code,” says Kirksey.

OPNFV has gained considerable expertise in NFV since its founding. It uses advanced software practices and has hardware spread across several labs. “We have a large diversity of hardware we can deploy to,” says Kirksey.

One of the OPNFV’s advanced software practices is continuous integration/ continuous delivery (CI/CD).  Continuous integration refers to how code is added to a software-build while it is still being developed unlike the traditional approach of waiting for a complete software release before starting the integration and testing work. For this to be effective, however, requires automated code testing. 

Continuous delivery, meanwhile, builds on continuous integration by automating a release’s update and even its deployment. 

“Using our CI/CD system, we will build various scenarios on a daily, two-daily or weekly basis and write a series of tests against them,” says Kirksey, adding that the OPNFV has a large pool of automated tests, and works with code bases from various open-source projects.

Kirksey cites two examples to illustrate how the OPNFV works with the open-source projects.

When OPNFV first worked with OpenStack, the open-source cloud platform took far too long - about 10 seconds - to detect a faulty virtual machine used to implement a network function running on a server. “We had a team within OPNFV, led by NEC and NTT Docomo, to analyse what it would take to be able to detect faults much more quickly,” says Kirksey. 

The result required changes to 11 different open-source projects, while the OPNFV created test software to validate that the resulting telecom-grade fault-detection worked. 

Another example cited by Kirksey was to enable IPv6 support that required changes to OpenStack, OpenDaylight and, the fast data plane open source initiative.   


The reason cloud-native is getting a lot of excitement is that it is much more lightweight with its containers versus virtual machines


OPNFV Fraser 

In May, the OPNFV issued its sixth platform release dubbed Fraser that progresses its technology on several fronts.

Fraser offers enhanced support for cloud-native technology that use microservices and containers, an alternative to virtual machine-based network functions.

The OPNFV is working with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), another open-source organisation overseen by the Linux Foundation. 

CNCF is undertaking several projects addressing the building blocks needed for cloud-native applications. The most well-known being Kubernetes, used to automate the deployment, scaling and management of containerised applications.

“The reason cloud-native is getting a lot of excitement is that it is much more lightweight with its containers versus virtual machines,” says Kirksey. “It means more density of what you can put on your [server] box and that means capex benefits.” 

Meanwhile, for applications such as edge computing, where smaller devices will be deployed at the network edge, lightweight containers and Kubernetes are attractive, says Kirksey.

Another benefit of containers is faster communications. “Because you don’t have to go between virtual machines, communications between containers is faster,” she says. “If you are talking about network functions, things like throughput starts to become important.”

The OPNFV is working with cloud-native technology in the same way it started working with OpenStack. It is incorporating the technology within its frameworks and undertaking proof-of-concept work for the CNCF, identifying shortfalls and developing test software. 

OPNFV has incorporated Kubernetes in all its installers and is adopting other CNCF work such as the Prometheus project used for monitoring. 

“There is a lot of networking work happening in CNCF right now,” says Kirksey. “There are even a couple of projects on how to optimise cloud-native for NFV that we are also involved in.”

OPNFV’s Fraser also enhances carrier-grade features. Infrastructure maintenance work can now be performed without interrupting virtual network functions. 

Also expanded are the metrics that can be extracted from the underlying hardware, while the OPNFV’s Calipso project has added modules for service assurance as well as support for Kubernetes.  

Fraser has also improved the support for testing and can allocate hardware dynamically across its various labs. “Basically we are doing more testing across different hardware and have got that automated as well,” says Kirksey. 


Linux Foundation Networking Fund

In January, the Linux Foundation combined the OPNFV with five other open-source telecom projects it is overseeing to create the Linux Foundation Networking Fund (LNF). 

The other five LNF projects are the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP), OpenDaylight,, the PNDA big data analytics project, and the SNAS streaming network analytics system.


Edge is becoming a bigger and more important use-case for a lot of the operators


“We wanted to break down the silos across the different projects,” says Kirksey. There was also overlap with members sitting on several projects’ boards. “Some of the folks were spending all their time in board meetings,” says Kirksey. 

Service provider Orange is using the OPNFV Fraser functional testing framework as it adopts ONAP. Orange used the functional testing to create its first test container for ONAP in one day. Orange also achieved a tenfold reduction in memory demands, going from a 1-gigabyte test virtual machine to a 100-megabyte container. And the operator has used the OPNFV’s CI/CD toolchain for the ONAP work.

By integrating the CI/CD toolchain across projects, OPNFV says it is much easier to incorporate new code on a regular basis and provide valuable feedback to the open source projects.

The next code release, Gambia, could be issued as early as November.

Gambia will offer more support for cloud-native technologies. There is also a need for more work around Layer 2 and Layer 3 networking as well as edge computing work involving OpenStack and Kubernetes. 

“Edge is becoming a bigger and more important use-case for a lot of the operators,” says Kirksey.

OPNFV is also continuing to enhance its test suites for the various projects. “We want to ensure we can support the service providers real-world deployment needs,” concludes Kirksey.

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