VMware bows Project Maestro orchestrator to drive automation across any network or cloud

On Tuesday at VMworld 2019 Europe, VMware took the wraps off of its Project Maestro telco cloud orchestrator and also announced a VNF Self Certification program.

Project Maestro is a "cloud down" approach by VMware to model, on-board, orchestrate and manage virtual network functions (VNFs) and, eventually cloud network functions (CNFs). Project Maestro is currently in preview mode for telcos with general availability slated for early next year.

VMware has been investing in its telco side of the business over the past four years, and Project Maestro is VMware's attempt at making network functions virtualization (NFV) and VNFs more manageable by taking a cloud-first approach to reduce multi-cloud complexities. With advent of edge computing and wider rollouts of 5G, telco cloud architectures unify IT and network environments and connect them to the various private, public and edge clouds, but there needs to be orchestration to do that.

While previous attempts at NFV were bogged down by added complexities, Project Maestro was designed to provide a simplified vendor-neutral and standard-compliant approach for designing and on-boarding commercial VNFs, CNFs or network services.

Telcos have long complained that vendors' VNFs were specific to each vendor, which required a longer period of time for on-boarding, while the vendors have complained that they can't design VNFs for each telco.

Project Maestro will allow service providers to define and apply policies using a design engine to automate "day 0" through complex "day 2" operations.  It will also onboard and orchestrate workloads from virtual machines and container-based infrastructure and distribute workloads from the core to the edge and from private to public clouds for "true" network unified orchestration, according to VMware.

While VMware is banking on "telco cloud" to distinguish itself from previous attempts for NFV, there are other more modern orchestrators for NFV that exist today, including orchestrators by Cloudify and Inmanta. Other "cloud-like" vendors include Amdocs (which, along with AT&T, was critical in building ECOMP that became part of ONAP), Ericsson's Dynamic Orchestrator, Nokia's CloudBand and Netcracker.

"I would argue that orchestration is not actually a very widely deployed environment today," said Gabriele di Piazza, vice president of managed products and solutions for telco NFV. "I would argue there's been a lot of starts and stops. I think that with the right orchestration and automation we will start to see multiple sites and new services in need of more dynamic types of service deployments."

Project Maestro is built as a modular, model-driven solution. The generic VNF Manager and NFV orchestrator components can integrate any SOL compliant ETSI MANO architecture. VMware plans to expand partner VNF certification to cover infrastructure and orchestration through its VMware Ready for NFV program.

RELATED: 10 operators, including AT&T and Verizon, align around creating task force for NFVi

While orchestration and automation fall squarely into ONAP's domain, di Piazza said VMware works with ONAP, although Project Maestro initially appears as though it will compete against it.

On the NFV front, the Linux Foundation's LF Networking and GSMA are in the process of defining a common industry framework for network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVi) through the creation of the Common NFVi Telco Taskforce (CNTT), which is comprised of AT&T, Bell Canada, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Jio, Orange, SK Telecom, Telstra, Verizon and Vodafone.

The CNTT is working hand in hand with LF Networking's testing and compliance program, OPNFV Verification Program (OVP), for VNFs, which was announced at the Open Networking Summit earlier this year.

"With these moves, it's clear that VMware aims to double down on its commitments in the telco market," said AvidThink founder and principal Roy Chua. "Project Maestro does potentially pits it against VMware partners today that provide MANO solutions. In the past, VMware has pointed telcos at these partners when asked about orchestration. This move makes that relationship a little more tenuous, though I expect VMware to play the 'We will continue to partner with everyone, including ONAP and OSM' card, at least until they see interest and traction for Project Maestro."

Di Piazza said Project Maestro connects to underlying technologies such as VMware's vSphere, vCloud Director, OpenStack, and Kubernetes or through its cloud partnerships with Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google. Like Cisco, VMware is able to throw its weight and an integrated product suite behind Project Maestro.

Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp., has been critical of NFV since its early inception, but Project Maestro could be a different take depending on its eventual scope.

"I think VMware has an opportunity here, one that builds what’s actually a rather independent and more cloud-centric model of NFV, then harmonizes it 'horizontally' with the ETSI stuff," Nolle said in an email to FierceTelecom. "That way, they can advance NFV as it should be, not as the ETSI ISG has defined it, but still retain compliance for operators who think the ETSI model is important. 

"The question, which the release doesn’t answer, is exactly how much more the VMware NFV ecosystem will offer. If it’s only a little, then this is just a platform to reduce on-boarding issues. If it’s a lot, it could be a big asset in transitioning operators to hosted features."

VMware debuts VNF Self Certification program

VMware Ready for NFV is a certification program that assures interoperability and operational readiness between third-party developed VNFs and the ETSI-compliant VMware vCloud NFV platform. The program was designed to ensure that service providers can rapidly on-board and deploy VNFs from multiple vendors with the VMware vCloud  NFV platform.

VMware has added a VNF Self Certification Program to its VMware Ready for NFV certification program. Self-certification allows VNF vendors to test their VNFs on the vCloud NFV platform by running automated testing in the cloud. Di Piazza said VMware has certified 120 VNFs from 80 vendors, including Ericsson, Nokia, and Metaswitch, to date, but the new certification program will speed the certification process up.

"This has been a driving factor in our engagement with carriers," he said. "The whole program is something that we can actually provide to a partner if they would like to certify. We provide them a tool kit and they can run all the automated tests and basically we are just checking and evaluating their results. We are really trying to ease as much as possible the ability to on-board additional services and additional applications."