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Why NETCONF beats OpenStack when managing uCPE

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I know this question reads like comparing apples with oranges. In fact, I want to compare a uCPE managed with NETCONF versus a uCPE managed as an OpenStack compute node. First, it’s worth looking at why people think using OpenStack is a good idea.

OpenStack is THE open-source Virtualization Infrastructure Manager (VIM). As operators virtualize their data centers, OpenStack is pretty much the only solution if they want to move away from VMware. As operators move to OpenStack, they can extend it to manage Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) in branches. The benefit looks obvious: one team in charge of both data center and branch virtualization and a streamlined software layer to deploy and manage.

In many ways, NETCONF vs OpenStack is a political decision. One that determines whether a combination of DevOps culture and IT teams will take power.

OpenStack: Free as in freedom, not as in price

OpenStack is not a piece of software, but rather a distribution of modules with heterogeneous documentation. More importantly, putting OpenStack into production requires the gathering of a critical mass of skilled experts. You need a good set of experienced architects who know what works, what does not and what will fail if you do things in a certain way. One well-known issue with OpenStack, for example, concerns planning upgrades. This is not a trivial job; VMware still makes a lot of money and Redhat or Mirantis put massive effort into packaging and supporting OpenStack.[1]

OpenStack was conceived for data centers

Using OpenStack for uCPE is about deploying VNFs where it makes sense, i.e. the trade-off between cost, latency and security. It implies VNFs would be seamlessly chained between a datacenter and branches. Extending OpenStack to the branch, however, poses challenges, the biggest of which is security. When VNFs are contained within a data center, the security perimeter is clearly defined. In contrast, deploying VNF in branches means the security boundaries are more open-ended as connections can be made to new customer branches. In this case, openness and security often contradict each other.

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