CableLabs IDs overlooked network virtualization hurdle: software license management

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Software licensing "is about to become an order of magnitude more complex" for telecommunications providers, a CableLabs architect notes. (Image: CableLabs)

Cable operators and other telecommunications providers are about to face a largely overlooked challenge in their migration to network functions virtualization (NFV) environments, said Don Clarke, principal architect of network technologies for CableLabs.

“Software license management in the telecommunications environment is about to become an order of magnitude more complex as NFV emerges from the shadows to become the technology of choice for future telecommunications network infrastructures!,” Clarke wrote in a blog post

“Physical network appliances, purchased with a packet of software licenses, wrapped up in a commercial agreement with a single vendor and fixed for several years are about to be displaced by racks of servers running thousands of ephemeral instances of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) and other types of critical software originating from a myriad of diverse sources—and changing minute by minute according to changing demands on the network,” he added.

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Further describing the complexity, Clarke noted that each network operator and software provider has a different licensing and enforcement process. 

“How will VNF providers know that their software is being used according to the license terms? And network operators need to ensure that any failure in license acquisition or enforcement does not lead to service outage,” he said. 

All of this complexity, Clarke noted, could incentivize operators to try to work with a limited number of large vendors, undermining a key benefit of virtualization. 

“The whole point of NFV was to open the telecommunications ecosystem to small innovative software players,” Clarke wrote. “A vibrant and open telecommunications ecosystem is something I feel passionately about, and I resolved to do something about it.”

In terms of managing this complexity, Clarke pointed to a white paper published last month by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute, which outlines best practices for software licensing management in NFV environments. 

Echoing the paper’s suggestions, Clarke said that the telecom industry should avoid customizing licensee management procedures for each VNF type and provider.  He also said that the acquisition of VNF license usage information, as well as license management operations, should be “massively simplified."

“A guiding principle is to minimize the impact on the existing NFV specifications by identifying the minimum features needed to implement any commercial license management framework typically residing in a separate or higher layer system (e.g. OSS/BSS),” Clarke wrote. “I think of this as identifying and specifying the minimum set of operations necessary to be executed by the NFV Management & Orchestration (MANO) system to acquire VNF software licenses and monitor their usage.”

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