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Linux Foundation drives VNF migration to cloud-native functions

The Linux Foundation is driving VNF migration to cloud-native network functions, claiming the transition results in better efficiency, scalability and reliability.

The Linux Foundation is stoking the fire to spur an evolution from virtual network functions to so-called cloud-native network functions.

In one of several announcements during the Open Networking Summit in Amsterdam this week, The Linux Foundation said it is working with the Cloud Native Computing Foundation to better support this virtual network function (VNF) migration to cloud-native network functions. One example the foundation cited was running network functions on Kubernetes container instances.

Network functions traditionally run on physical appliances within the network. With the emergence of VNFs, service providers gained the option to move traditional network functions to virtual machines that could run in a virtualized environment.

But VNFs have proved to be more challenging than most service providers expected, according to Lee Doyle, principal analyst at Doyle Research. VNFs have the potential to increase network scalability and agility, but interoperability issues, service chaining difficulties and lack of support stand in the way.

With a VNF migration to cloud-native network functions, The Linux Foundation claims network functions will become more efficient, reliable and scalable, citing new features such as container orchestration, service mesh architectures and microservices.

To Doyle, though, "cloud-native" is a misnomer.

"There are a lot of carriers talking about cloud-native," Doyle said. "But what they really want is open, decomposable, interoperable and standards-based. Cloud-native seems to be more of a hot term."

Linux projects working toward cloud-native

Multiple projects within The Linux Foundation are working toward this VNF migration to cloud-native network functions and capabilities. One such project, the Open Platform for Network Functions Virtualization, updated its NFV platform to include more support for Kubernetes-based scenarios, containerized VNFs, service mesh and Multi-Virtualized Infrastructure Manager, The Linux Foundation said.

Additionally, the foundation highlighted cloud-native network function support with updates to its Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) project. ONAP presents service providers with a platform to manage and orchestrate NFV architecture.

Originally, ONAP ran in virtualized environments, like VMware or OpenStack, for example. But, following the trajectory of industry calls for additional flexibility, ONAP updated its second release, Beijing, to provide basic support for containers and Kubernetes management.

In November, ONAP expects to release its next series of code, Casablanca, which will increase cloud-native support by allowing users to deploy ONAP modules in multiple infrastructure environments, including containers and any public, private or hybrid cloud environment, The Linux Foundation said.

Most of the foundation's project updates centered on the operational needs for containers and cloud-native network functions, like scaling capabilities, monitoring and container networking capabilities for Kubernetes.

"They improved support for Kubernetes because the networking native to Kubernetes -- or containers, in general -- isn't that good," Doyle said.

While the networking industry might be heading in the direction of VNF migration to cloud-native network functions, the evolution will take time.

"The reality is carriers are going to be implementing most of their telecom services on their own platforms," Doyle said. "If cloud-native means private cloud containers, then sure, it makes sense. But they're likely not going to be running them on AWS [Amazon Web Services]. You're just not going to see a bunch of VNFs from AT&T running on Amazon."

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