HP Unveils NFV Virtualization Effort for Service Providers

Hewlett-Packard at Mobile World Congress said NFV will help telecoms create more flexible networks and compete with the likes of Google and Facebook.

Hewlett-Packard is looking to help telecommunications vendors and network operators leverage network-function virtualization technology to respond more quickly to changing demands, more rapidly spin out services for end users, and better compete against more agile competitors like Google, Facebook and Yahoo.

The tech giant at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2014 Feb. 24 unveiled its OpenNFV Program, a collection of software and services designed to enable communications service providers to virtualize much of their core networking environment and put their network functions into software. The network-function virtualization (NFV) capabilities will make service provider infrastructures more flexible, automated and cost-effective at a time when trends like mobile computing and cloud are putting increasing pressure on them to more quickly offer services to end users.

NFV is a key focus at MWC this week, with a range of vendors—from Broadcom and Dell to Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei Technologies and Red Hat—showcasing their various offerings in this nascent space. HP's news also comes a week after reports began leaking that the company was creating a specific NFV business unit that is being led by Bethany Mayer, senior vice president and currently general manager of HP's networking division.

Mayer told eWEEK that NFV technologies will help service providers, which find themselves with cumbersome and expensive legacy infrastructures that aren't designed to enable them to respond to the rapid demands of the current computing environment. They also are seeing a growing threat from over-the-top (OTT) vendors like Google, Skype and Facebook, which have more modern and highly virtualized data centers and can create and offer such services as video and other rich media significantly more quickly.

"In the telecom space, they are in new competition that we didn't necessarily see before," Mayer said, referring to the large Web 2.0 companies. NFV offerings from the likes of HP will enable service providers to "utilize much of the technology that many of the Googles of the world already utilize."

NFV and software-defined networks (SDN) hold the promise of enabling organizations to create networks that are much easier to program and manage, in large part by taking the network intelligence and various network functions—such as load balancing, firewalls and intrusion detection—that now sit on complex, expensive switches and routers, virtualizing them and running them in software. With NFV, which essentially refers to those applications running in Layers 4-7, telecoms also can run their networks on less-expensive, off-the-shelf hardware.

It also fits in well with HP's expertise in the telecom industry, virtualizing workloads and work to help create open standards, Mayer said.

NFV is "a good opportunity for [service providers] and a great opportunity for HP," she said.

In its OpenNFV Program, HP has pulled together a range of assets—from its networking equipment, standards-based x86 servers and storage solutions based on its 2010 acquisition of 3Par to offerings around OpenFlow switching, SDN and virtualization, including support for major hypervisors like VMware, Hyper-V from Microsoft, Xen and KVM, according to Jeff Edlund, CTO for communications, media and solutions at HP.

Included in the OpenNFV Program is the OpenNFV Reference Architecture, an open-standards-based package that offers an architectural environment that spans the physical infrastructure—from servers and networking to storage—virtualization, SDN controllers, management and orchestration, analytics and a support system. It also includes applications for telecoms. The reference architecture includes HP's Virtual Services Router that supports virtualized appliances such as hosted public clouds, and such SDN technologies as HP's Virtual Application Networks, SDN Controller and Open SDN Ecosystem.

HP also will create OpenNFV Labs and OpenNFV Partner Program to help organizations test and manage network applications, according to company officials. Some of the updated telecom applications being leveraged by the OpenNFV Program include NFV Director or orchestration, Virtual Home Subscriber Server to manage subscriber identities over multiple networks, Multimedia Services Environment for consolidating network applications on a common infrastructure, and Virtual Content Delivery Network Software to manage the physical delivery of media assets.

In addition, HP also is offering consulting and technology services connected to the NFV strategy, as well as financial services.