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Northbound Interfaces are Coming. Change your API or Die...

by Sue Rudd | Aug 26, 2015

August 2015 By Sue Rudd, Director Service Provider Analysis, Strategy Analytics - email:

So you think SDN/NFV is about Hardware and Lower Layers?

Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) have been discussed widely in terms of the lower layers - virtual resource allocation for hardware processors, bandwidth-on-demand, routing, and switching. Over the next year attention will shift to what operators really care about - revenue generation from native services and end user applications. But this will require significant redesign for many applications service developers.

In this - the first of two blogs I want to warn service and application developers how scary this could be. In another blog next month, I’ll suggest some of the fun upside opportunities.

SDN/NFV Architecture Changes Everything….but North Bound Interfaces are proliferating

SDN/NFV’s ‘Telco Cloud’ architecture will ‘strand’ siloed applications that nail each solution to a single API with specific middleware and a specific Operating System (OS), processor and platform. Instead it will ‘float’ horizontal service ‘slices’ in a sea of North Bound Interfaces (NBIs). The NBI API is the new interface that allows service layer applications to place requests for network resources to the SDN Controller which is then supposed to dynamically assign virtualized resources across all types of routing and physical transport in real time to meet those requests.

Service APIs must therefore be built to be platform and transport independent and mapped to NBI functions. Although the Open Network Foundation (ONF) established a working group in 2014 to focus on the Northbound Interface, standardization was explicitly not given priority. So unfortunately all the major telecommunications equipment vendors are now implementing different variations of NBI APIs. This not only makes migration complex and burdensome for application developers but is already recreating the very silos that SDN/NFV was designed to break down.

Java and OMGi Developers will have an easier migration than owners of Legacy Structured Code and C++ software.

Developers who have already built object oriented code that externalized platform and network resources will have a much easier time migrating their code to the ‘horizontal’ SDN/NFV transport independent model. Significant work is also already being done to support OSGi/Java Northbound API migration. However, developers who still rely on traditional ‘Structured Code’ - that is not so structured - and Web based applications may have significant work to migrate their functionality. They may need to rewirite I/O and network request code or restructure requests that interact with multiple network elements. If done poorly performance will suffer and the burden on the signaling network will escalate.

Operators are Shifting their Approach to New Service Adoption

To make this worse operators themselves are now even less willing to commit upfront dedicated resources for any single service or service platform, as they now want to decompose services into ‘Virtual Network Functions’ (VNFs) that they can ‘mix and match’ across vendors on any hardware to create new combinations of service logic i.e. ‘Service Chaining’ that reuse and scale VNFs to achieve ‘Web Scale’ efficiency.

Get Ready for the Backlash

As operators discover the real challenge of migrating existing services and applications as well as the multiple other implications of SDN/NFV we should expect a serious backlash. As we enter the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ for SDN as Gartner’s Hype Cycle predicts we should remember that the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ will soon follow.

Register Here for Service Innovation Delivery Summit to discuss these and other Service Challenges.

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