2018 the year of ONAP?

Adoption of a standard network automation platform could accelerate service provider NFV/SDN deployment

One of the more intriguing decisions facing communications service providers in 2018 will be whether or not to adopt the Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP) – the open source project built as a standard for the design, creation, orchestration and lifecycle management of network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined network (SDN) and the services those technologies enable.

Created by the Linux Foundation, ONAP is the amalgamation of two earlier network automation standards – AT&T’s Enhanced Control, Orchestration, Management and Policy (ECOMP) platform and China Mobile’s OPEN-Orchestrator (Open-O) project. Though initially devised with telco networks in mind, the ONAP operating system offers benefits for any IT service or cloud provider delivering automated NFV/SDN services on a large scale, particularly when it comes to fast automated provisioning and network scaling.

Standardisation efforts are not uncommon in the ICT industry of course – the key question is whether they stick. ONAP has some heavy backing which could ensure its longevity, however. As of January, 54 companies count themselves as members including other leading telcos and mobile operators (China Telecom, Hong Kong Telecom, Orange, Turk Telecom and Vodafone) and big telecommunications equipment and software vendors like Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, IBM, Juniper, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, VMware and ZTE.

In North America, Bell Canada plans to have ONAP in production in its network by January, deployed initially in support of its applications hosting and data centre businesses as a replacement for functions that were previously conducted on a manual or semi-manual basis. Wholesale provider Epsilion is another early adopter, with plans to use ONAP to automate the billing and procurement process for SIP trunking and Ethernet services this year.

But whilst most service providers see a benefit in ONAP, it will require a fundamental shift in the way they build their networks. Only time will tell, but the challenges involved in its deployment may be more cultural than technical.

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