Why the time to move to NETCONF/YANG is now
With backing from major NFV/SDN projects and industry organisations, NETCONF, the client/server protocol designed to configure network devices more clearly and effectively, will soon become ubiquitous. Communications service providers (CSPs) who migrate to NETCONF can both future-proof their operations for NFV and can also reap some of short-term benefits of automation, today, writes Pravin Mirchandani, the chief marketing officer of OneAccess Networks.
By addressing the shortcomings of existing network configuration protocols like simple network management protocol (SNMP) and command line interface (CLI), NETCONF was developed to enable more efficient and effective network management. SNMP has long been cast off by operators and CSPs as hopelessly complicated and difficult to decipher. CLI may be readable by a network engineer, but it is prone to human error and can lead to vendor lock-in, since proprietary implementations often mean that only one vendor’s element management system can manage their network elements.
NETCONF, on the other hand, is designed specifically with programmability in mind, making it perfect for an automated, software-based environment. It enables a range of functions to be delivered automatically in the network, while maintaining flexibility and vendor independence – by removing the network’s dependence on device-specific CLI scripts. NETCONF also offers network management that is not only human readable, but also supports operations like transaction-based provisioning, querying, editing and deletion of configuration data.
YANG is the telecom-specific modelling language that makes NETCONF useful, by describing device configuration and state information that can be transported via the NETCONF protocol. The configuration is plain text and human-readable, plus it’s easy to copy and paste and compare between devices and services. Together, NETCONF and YANG can deliver a thus far elusive mix of predictability and automation.
NFV needs NETCONF
What’s even more powerful is that NETCONF and YANG combined offer the flexibility needed to manage both virtual and physical devices. This means that operators can get going with NETCONF now, before they start ripping out old devices and replacing them with white boxes. This is a necessary investment in the future; as we look forward to a virtualised networking environment, where network functions are spun up and changed continuously, the high level of automation enabled by NETCONF/YANG is not just preferable, it is essential.
Its open nature also creates a system where virtual services can be designed at a high level, independent of the complexities and device dependencies of the underlying infrastructure. As NETCONF/YANG facilitates openness and removes vendor lock-in, the combination should enable virtualization to realize its full potential, as a range of virtualised functions can be deployed from multiple ‘best of breed’ vendors.
Making the move – our top tips
The move to a network configuration standard is long overdue. As CSPs move into an era of dynamic, self-provisioning network services, NETCONF will soon be as ubiquitous as SNMP, so making the move now means CSPs can get ahead of the game. In spite of having been around for a few years, NETCONF/YANG adoption has been slow to achieve widespread implementation. This has largely been due to time and resource constraints amongst network management teams at both vendors and service providers, coupled with a lack of understanding as to how the benefits of NETCONF/YANG can counter the investment and legacy issues operators face.
For operators that are now ready to make the shift, here are three key recommendations:
Operators should ensure they select vendors that have comprehensive support for NETCONF/YANG and embrace openness. Ensuring the vendors selected are adopting this forward-thinking approach can ensure CSPs can avoid vendor lock-in and deliver a multi-vendor, best of breed service.
Migration to NFV won’t take place overnight. Operators will need solutions that work in a hybrid/physical environment for many years, so service migration plans need to be flexible and minimize cost and complexity.
A smart solution for operators is to continue to purchase classical, cost-effective CPE, but insisting this comes with integrated NETCONF/YANG support. Whilst less flexible than a pure, white-box CPE approach, this ensures a smooth and cost-effective migration to the next generation of OSS (NFV-MANO).
This is key. It’s worth noting that investment in skills will be needed as well as in equipment. Ensuring operations teams acquire and combine with IT teams to possess key language skills, such as YANG, XML and Python, is crucial. Adapting processes by introducing a Devops culture and the relevant associated processes is a key enabler in being prepared and ensuring change does not get slowed down by existing organizational and operational processes.
Migration to this networking standard holds numerous benefits, but simple lack of familiarity and fear of change has meant the majority of operators have been late to reap the rewards. Accepting an initial investment and taking the first steps towards migration to the standard will not only future-proof operators and customer premise equipment but deliver the real, tangible benefits of automation ahead of widespread virtualisation adoption.