VMware takes on mobile networks with vCloud for NFV

The virtualized network functions in its platform can come from many vendors

VMware has jumped into the hot NFV market with a platform that lets service providers run their network functions as virtualized applications from different vendors.

The company launched VMware vCloud for NFV on Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where telecommunications and IT vendors and their carrier customers are all promoting NFV (network functions virtualization) as the future of mobile networks.

NFV takes back-end functions involved in managing services and subscribers out of dedicated appliances and turns them into virtualized applications that can run on generic hardware. This makes carriers faster and leaner, allowing them to roll out new services more quickly and be more flexible in how they run their networks. It's also designed to help support the new demands that come with the Internet of Things.

VMware is getting into this market on the heels of both longtime telecom suppliers like Ericsson and enterprise players like Hewlett-Packard that also build platforms for carriers. The virtualization giant has already shaken up networking with its NSX network virtualization product, part of the trend toward SDN (software-defined networking). SDN puts the smarts for traffic-handling gear like switches and routers into software, while NFV does the same for functions that run on top of networks.

VMware vCloud for NFV incorporates NSX, along with the vSphere virtualization system, Virtual SAN for handling storage and VMware vRealize Operations, a cloud management product. It also includes VMware Integrated OpenStack. But the virtualized network functions that carriers will run on the platform can come from other vendors. It supports more than 40 virtualized functions from more than 30 vendors.

VMware claims vCloud for NFV is the first product that runs VNFs from different vendors on the same unified platform for the cloud. It's scheduled to be available this quarter.

AT&T is already adopting NFV in a quest to cut costs and deploy new services and capacity more quickly. It plans to virtualize five percent of its network functions this year and reap benefits from the project by the end of the year in its connected-car and MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) businesses, AT&T Senior Executive Vice President John Donovan said Monday at the show.

By 2020, the carrier plans to virtualize 75 percent of its network functions. One major initiative is virtualizing all its VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) services under one platform. That includes VoLTE, mobile HD voice and wireline VoIP services. Taking that step will boost the efficiency of operations and improve voice quality, Donovan said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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