HP makes play for network virtualization with OpenNFV program

HP assigns networking chief Bethany Mayer to head up strategy in hot new networking technology for telecom companies

Hewlett-Packard is plunging into the rapidly emerging field of network functions virtualization (NFV), announcing Monday an OpenNV program comprised of applications and services designed to virtualize core networks and network functions and allow telecommunications companies to more efficiently compete in the rapidly growing world of rich media.

HP is also assigning high-level staff to lead its NFV business activity as part of its initiative to woo carriers that are desperate to lower costs, pick up the pace of innovation and ward off competition from so-called "over-the-top" players like Google and Skype, which are delivering new video and audio services and content to users via the Internet.

HP's OpenNFV program has three elements: an open standards--based NFV Reference Architecture; HP's work with partners to develop NFV applications and services; and HP OpenNFV Labs for testing related applications and hardware, said Werner Schaefer, vice president of the company's NFV business.

"HP has offered a carrier-grade system for many years," said Schaefer. "We have a pedigree in this."

HP is detailing its plans at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. NFV is emerging as the most important new infrastructure trend highlighted by vendors at Mobile World Congress, the world's biggest tech show devoted to mobile technology.

Also at MWC, Dell is teaming up with Red Hat to work on NFV and is taking leadership of the CloudNFV organization, while Alcatel-Lucent is touting its own partnership with Red Hatto develop NFV offerings.

Telecom companies face stiff competition from the newer, nimbler over-the-top content providers, who have been much faster at deploying and generating revenue from new services and applications, noted Gartner analyst Akshay Sharma.

Carriers have traditionally deployed services that are based on network functions that were incorporated into individual, proprietary hardware appliances, Sharma said. "They'd have to string all these boxes together, but what NFV is all about is taking functions such as session border control or video compression, virtualizing them and running them in server farms, making them elastic and tunable to new business models" Sharma said.

NFV eliminates the need to take years testing new functions in proprietary hardware, Sharma said. With NFV, carriers can offer new services based on virtualized network functions running on commodity hardware in the cloud, possibly hosted by third party providers, Sharma added.

HP is serious about NFV, appointing Bethany Mayer, head of HP's $2.5 billion networking equipment business unit, to head up the company's NFV business strategy, Schaefer confirmed.

Rumors of Mayer's move surfaced last week, when tech site Re/code reported that HP planned to have Mayer focus on NFV and seek a replacement for her to head the networking unit.

As part of OpenNFV, HP is launching a range of applications that have been updated as NFV functions. They include:

-- HP Virtual Home Subscriber Server, designed to allow operators to manage their subscribers' identities across multiple networks;

-- HP Multimedia Services Environment, which consolidates network applications on a common infrastructure and launches multimedia applications;

-- HP Virtual Content Delivery Network Software, handling the physical delivery of media assets for any content-based Internet service.

In addition, HP NFV Consulting Services, under the aegis of HP Enterprise Services and HP Technology Services, helps carriers assess business opportunities associated with the NFV functionality. HP Financial Services, meanwhile, enables on-demand infrastructure by providing asset management capabilities for customers.

The HP OpenNFV Labs will be located in existing HP facilities around the world, including Grenoble, France; Fort Collins, Colorado; and Houston, with a scheduled open date in early spring.

HP is featuring proof-of-concept demonstrations of its NFV offerings at Mobile World Congress this week.

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