SAN JOSE, Calif. – Carriers are making progress on their goal of migrating to virtual networks run on computer servers, but they are also paving a path for accelerators to get the high performance and low latency they need.
Operators and OEMs described their work prototyping virtual networks and drafting a new accelerator interface for them at the NFV World Congress here. Their aim is to lower the cost and increase the speed of deploying services by moving away from proprietary systems based on vendor-specific ASICs and APIs.
Making virtual network functions (VNFs) so simple that end users “don’t have to worry about networking is a grand challenge,” said Ken Duell, head of new technology product development and engineering at AT&T Labs in a keynote here.
“We’re taking millions of physical boxes and breaking them into tens of millions VNFs -- this is a systems engineering problem on which we’ve been doing detailed analysis for the last 18 months,” he said.
AT&T has seen good results using Ethernet virtual private networks (EVPNs) to “glue legacy and new networks into a coherent whole that’s easy to operate,” Duell said. He called on attendees to “start a conversation about EVPNs,” in part because they allow operators to bundle “multiple customer flows into virtual tunnels” that can control Layer 2 and 3 traffic.
In one recent experiment, an AT&T team used the emerging P4 programming language to to quickly implement in 78 lines of code a new EVPN cross-connect standard. P4 is geared for software-defined networks and was co-developed by a startup developing a new class of simplified networking chips.
“We accelerated delivery of a standard, and the code was clear and short enough that I could read and understand it,” he said.
Off-the-shelf servers still lack some of the performance and latency prowess of purpose-built telco boxes, but they are improving.
“Some functions work great and some don’t, but were pushing vendors… two years ago I was more skeptical, but now were in production with a number of functions,” said Duell. The hardware is “maturing quickly but the software to run boxes in a distributed fashion is still developing -- it’s a call to action on software and less on hardware,” he said.
Next page: Accelerators help pick up the pace