Virtual Network Function (VNF) Test and Validation initiatives are being touted by many vendors at the moment. Service providers have been challenged with the interoperability, scale and performance of the early generation VNFs.   There should be no question on whether software VNFs should be “held to account” – that is, tested in large scale environments as hardware networking elements have been for years.   Cisco’s VNF Onboarding Framework, which we’ll discuss in this blog, will help service providers address these challenges.

I’m writing this blog with Ranga Maddipudi, Manager of Product Management in Cisco’s NFV Business Unit.  We will give you our perspectives on Cisco’s VNF On-boarding Framework, all  the way from the industry collaborations driven from our NFV R&D team, all the way to real world deployments and technical support.  We’ll describe why there has never been a better time for you to exploit Cisco’s investment in test and validation of NFV solutions involving Cisco and third party VNFs.

One of the major challenges service providers have in today’s world of NFV and virtual network functions, is that of integration: how do they pull together a complex software solution, across multiple layers of hardware, software including OpenStack, virtual network functions from Cisco and other third party vendors, orchestration, service catalog portal and associated OSS integration.  It’s not straightforward.  The good news is that Cisco can help you integrate such a solution for NFV, including NFV Infrastructure (NFVI), Virtual Managed Services (VMS), and other areas like Mobility (vEPC, vPCRF, vIMS) and of course the relevant Orchestration (Cisco NSO and ESC).  In this blog, we’ll update you on how we are integrating Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) – from both  Cisco and third parties – with Cisco NFV solutions. A high level view on Cisco’s VNF Onboarding Framework is shown below.  Ranga and I will follow this up in future blogs with more details specific components.

Figure 1: Cisco VNF Onboarding Framework

We’ll now explain this framework at a high level, starting with a summary of the Cisco VNF solution architecture.

Cisco NFV Solution Overview

The Cisco NFV Solution is built on industry standards supporting Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) from Cisco and 3rd party vendors, and addresses a wide range of use cases – Business Services, Mobility, etc. The solution has been tested to on-board simple and complex VNFs from over 20 vendors spanning different network services – routing, application delivery, firewalls, session border controllers, virtualized evolved packet core (vEPC), virtualized Policy and Charging Rules Function (vPCRF), virtualized IP Multimedia System (vIMS).  Cisco Services has also invested in the architectural, open source and orchestration skillsets required to these NFV solutions to life for our customers.

Figure 2: Cisco NFV Solution

Industry VNF Interoperability Initiatives

Underpinning all of our NFV initiatives are the cross-industry collaboration efforts which Cisco has driven and participated in, including

Cisco NFV Ecosystem

We’ve worked with a number of partners to validate interoperability of third party VNFs on Cisco NFV Infrastructure.   We provide Cisco NFV Ecosystem partners access to different lab setups to accelerate the interoperability testing process:

Cisco NFV Ecosystem members such as F5, Kemp, NetRounds, NFware and others have validated interoperability via the Cisco dCloud environment.

System Integrator Partners

Partners are an integral part of Cisco success.  So it should be no surprise that we collaborate with systems integrators and others to deliver customer solutions.  For example, the recent announcement of WWT with Cisco, Intel, and RedHat ensures that customers have choice when it comes to VNF on-boarding interoperability test and verification.

Cisco Services – Silver, Gold and Platinum Service Levels

Cisco Services have already been well recognized for expertise in NFV: an earlier survey by Ovum found Cisco rated #1 for Professional Services in SDN and NFV.  We recognize that one size does not fit all and many customers place specific requirements on the integration of VNFs into their environment.

Cisco Services helps customers address these requirements.  And we include service chain integration, customer-specific testing including security, large scale performance and scale testing as our customers have come to expect.  These customers have very exacting “certification” or Network Ready for Use (NRFU) testing that we have worked jointly on achieving for many years. Our “Silver”, “Gold” and “Platinum” levels of service will test VNFs – Cisco and Third Party – to multiple level of customer-specific test specification. In the Gold and Platinum levels, Cisco’s world-leading Cisco Solution Validation Services (SVS), where we have built and tested the world’s biggest and most complex networks, are engaged by the most demanding customers.  With these three levels of due diligence, coupled with continuing investment in our SVS labs, we’ll bring focus on testing software VNFs -including third party VNFs – to the same level of diligence that our customers have come to expect from our large scale hardware network testing.

Test and validation is, of course, an ongoing requirement, as new VNF vendor software iterations are released.  Subsequent versions also require validation.  And even more so in this DevOps world with customers moving to Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery models.  Cisco Optimization Services for NFV Infrastructure for example are already available, and help customers with the ongoing process of VNF test and validation.

Cisco Support Services

Completing the picture are Cisco Technical Support Services.  With all components of this strategy, Product Support options are available (from Cisco and third party VNF suppliers respectfully), covering each product in the solution.  For customers who have chosen to validate VNFs via the Cisco Gold and Platinum levels, customers have the option to purchase Cisco Solution Support.  This is where our Technical Services team (including Cisco TAC), provide a single point of contact for case management (a single “throat to choke”, if you will) of your entire solution – including being the first point of contact for third party elements, including VNFs, as part of the solution based upon Cisco NFVI.

Wrapping Up

We’ll expand on specific aspects of the Cisco VNF Onboarding Framework in future blogs.  In the meantime, feel free to contact us via the comments below or via Twitter.


Stephen Speirs

SP Product Management

Cisco Customer Experience (CX)