Updates in ETSI NFV for Accelerating the Transition to Cloud

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By Nelson Englert-Yang | 3Q 2023 | IN-7034

As evidenced by ETSI’s Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) development agenda and two new NFV-Management and Orchestration (NFV-MANO)-compliant services, the future of NFV supports widescale transition to hybrid and multi-cloud solutions without necessitating divestment from cloud-native.

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New Developments in NFV


ETSI announced plans for the next decade of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) development and is currently preparing NFV Release 6. Key changes include:

  • The broadening of virtualization technologies beyond traditional Virtual Machines (VMs) and containers (e.g., micro VM, Kata Containers, and WebAssembly)
  • Creation of declarative intent-driven network operations
  • Integrating heterogenous hardware, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), and cloud platforms through a unified management framework

All changes aim for simplification and automation within the NFV architecture. The developments are preceded by recent announcements of standards-based applications by hyperscalers: Amazon Web Services (AWS) Telco Network Builder (TNB) and Microsoft Azure Operator Nexus (AON) are two new NFV-Management and Orchestration (NFV-MANO)-compliant platforms for automating deployment of network services (including the core and Radio Access Network (RAN)) through the hybrid cloud. Will ETSI’s plans for NFV impact markets? Is NFV exhibiting a resurgence?

An Impact, but Not a Resurgence


Despite the rise of cloud-native telco networks, ETSI’s planned changes will likely have market impact due to the existing market penetration of NFV architectures. ABI Research forecasts that for Packet Gateway (PGW) and Serving Gateway (SGW) network functions, Cloud-native Network Functions (CNFs) will outpace Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) by a 43% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) (from 2021 to 2026, globally). These numbers confirm the buzz surrounding cloud-native solutions and their potential for market growth. Yet, for the same PGW and SGW network functions, the total number of cloud-native deployments by 2026 will still only be 36% that of virtual. This indicates the large stock of NFV architectures susceptible to impact by ETSI’s changes. The costs and opportunities associated with those impacts may be dependent upon the compatibility of current and next-phase NFV frameworks, which remains to be seen.

The rollout of AWS TNB and Microsoft AON is consistent with ETSI’s plans for NFV development due to its NFV-MANO compliance. This reveals the kind of progress in coordination between Information Technology (IT) hyperscalers and telcos that is envisioned by ETSI’s Release-6 design, all toward integrating heterogeneous technologies and cloud platforms in a unified NFV framework. Yet, this consistency and compliance should not be interpreted as a resurgence or re-trending of ETSI NFV led by hyperscalers; rather, the compliance is to redirect the existing stock of telco network technologies toward hyperscalers’ public cloud services. The coincidence of ETSI’s planning and these new network automation services is nevertheless informative for future markets.

Acceleration to Hybrid and Multi-Cloud


NFV-MANO compliance signals that the IT industry is transitioning from de facto standards and norms governing software development toward the telecoms industry’s explicit international standards (e.g., ITU-T’s Telecommunication Management Network (TMN)), which will improve interoperability, especially for NFV architectures. This will open new opportunities for progression to the hybrid cloud, which may be pursued for advantages in automation, storage, and flexibility for load, further supporting edge compute. It also opens new opportunities for multi-cloud among several MANO-compliant cloud vendors, helping to prevent vendor lock-in.

Early signs of IT-telco coordination are auspicious for the fulfillment and future uptake of ETSI’s other planned developments, especially the broadening of virtualization technologies and shift to declarative intent-driven network operations. For instance, both network automation services offer Kubernetes-based containerization and support VNF and CNF architectures. While operations are not declarative intent-based, Google’s competing Telecom Network Automation service is; such competition may stimulate developments in this direction. With the head start in coordination among hyperscalers and telcos, ETSI’s plans appear viable within the designated time frame.

Despite the good news for the continuous relevance of ETSI NFV, this will not likely impede investment in the transition to cloud-native architectures. First, cloud-native advantages over NFV persist in reducing costs of Virtual Machine (VM) overhead, energy consumption, and boot time. Second, as ETSI plans indicate, NFV architecture is broadening to accommodate cloud-native technologies. Those technologies will remain key drivers of growth withstanding the strategic use of NFV standards for expanding cloud services. Moreover, hyperscalers will not likely wait for NFV to complete its current workplan to introduce these features. The ongoing drive toward public and hybrid cloud developments, even for 5G core networks, means that NFV will likely create a viable, scalable, and robust platform, but too late for it to be considered for current networks.


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