Wind River’s Ecosystemic Solution to NFV and Orchestration

I blogged just yesterday about the possibility that the competitive dynamic in the orchestration space would be changed by Cisco’s Tail-f deal.  Since then we’ve had another announcement in the space, this one from Wind River.  The company’s NFV approach has a lot of good about it, a singular issue I’d like to see them deal with, and a high probability of further defining the NFV and orchestration space.

I’ve always liked Wind River, partly because they are an Intel company and it seems like the combination of open-source software and chips is a match made in heaven.  I also like their Carrier Grade Communications Server concept (so much that it’s a part of my ExperiaSphere model, as the recommended platform for hosting).  They’ve been active in the NFV space from the first, so they’re not just dabbling in the space to ride the hype wave.  Now, they’re addressing the critical area “above” the NFV Infrastructure platform, which is good.

The strategy Wind River has selected is one of an ecosystem of partners, which they call their Titanium Cloud ecosystem.  The program, whose announced initial partners are Brocade, GENBAND, Metaswitch Networks, Nakina Systems, and Overture Networks, is focused on building upward from CGCS to address the needs of the cloud, SDN, and NFV more fully.  Two of these companies were members of the CloudNFV project (Metaswitch and Overture) and they represent both the VNF side of NFV (Metaswitch) and the orchestration and infrastructure side (Overture).

I’m not a big fan of ecosystem approaches generally, as readers likely know.  What makes this one different is that you could build NFV completely from the ecosystem and even include the mobile/IMS stuff that’s the most popular example of an early NFV opportunity.  You can’t say that something is fluff when it’s functionally complete, and from that perspective Wind River’s Titanium could jump out into a space with few current inhabitants—the “NFV product” space.  The operative word here is “could”, and that’s the thing I’d like to see Wind River address more directly.

The most significant question I have about Titanium is “Who sells it?”  It appears that each of the vendors involved could sell their own stuff and that would likely include Wind River’s CGCS, but all of these vendors have a different slant on NFV and not only that provide different pieces of the high-level puzzle.  Any vendor in Titanium who wanted to sell a complete ecosystemic solution would have to integrate it.  None would have the credibility of Intel behind them.

A second question is the details of that assembly and integration.  I built a project from multiple vendors to implement NFV so I know what’s involved.  You have to promote some vision, some overall architecture, that helps get all the pieces assembled in an orderly way, or what you have is just a marketing convocation, a cheering section.

Integrating the pieces from Titanium into an offering wouldn’t be difficult, I think, but it wouldn’t be trivial either.  Some of the partners are competitors at least in part, and as more partners are added it’s going to be harder to insure that the sum of the parts adds up to anything useful.  It will also raise the question of who stands behind the summation.  Operators, to be confident about something as revolutionary as SDN, NFV, or the cloud, have to be confident that they have a trusted partner and a clear architecture.  Wind River will have to address that to actually realize the functional completeness they “could” provide.

That could be complicated, because Intel may be riding a large number of horses in the NFV and orchestration race.  Tail-f has been an Intel Network Builder partner; they’re still on the site.  So is an Intel company building an ecosystem that would be competitive with a Network Builder?  Does Intel hope that Cisco will adopt Wind River CGCS, and does that hope extend to either Cisco becoming a part of Titanium or Titanium being used as part of Cisco’s strategy for MANO and/or NFV?  I don’t think Tail-f is a complete solution but you could put one together from Titanium partners, as I’ve said, and that would give Cisco a better story.

Since the Titanium players could (that word again!) field what could be the most complete strategy for NFV and MANO commercially available, they certainly put pressure on Alcatel-Lucent, Dell, HP, and Red Hat.  Alcatel-Lucent could face a formidable challenge to the early credibility lead CloudBand has secured among operators.  HP could have someone with essentially comparable functionality to OpenNFV but who can actually deliver it all.  Dell and Red Hat now see competitors with a far better story than their own.  Unless they want to abandon a carrier vertical that could be the largest source of new data centers in the remainder of this decade, they’ll have to step up.

One player who might actually be happy with this is Ericsson.  If you’re a company who wants to make money on professional services, then having a credible ecosystem rather than a credible product leading the charge in NFV and MANO is a good thing because of that nagging question of who integrates and stands behind the ecosystem.  Ericsson may have an answer for that—they do.

Thus, Titanium may elevate the question of professional services for integration versus single-source as much or more as it elevates the NFV and orchestration dialog.  Do operators want best-of-breed components and an integrator, or a single source?  In my surveys they’re on the fence on that point; about 40% say one, 40% the other, and 20% say they can’t pick at this point.  Operator attitude might not matter much if nobody offers a single-source solution.  Getting that single-source solution will be complicated by the fact that the cloud, SDN, and NFV are all evolving in their own separate spaces (even though they rely on common notions like MANO).  If somebody can make an ecosystemic approach real, they could drive things forward in all three of our revolutions, to both the market’s benefit and their own.