• 05/30/2014
    8:00 AM
    Nicholas Ilyadis
  • Nicholas Ilyadis
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5 NFV Benefits & The Trends Driving Them

Network functions virtualization addresses several trends shaping service provider networks.

These days, millions of consumers and businesses are connected to a network in one form or another. As a result, the systems and datacenters used to transport and house content are getting bigger, more pervasive, and increasingly complex. Add to this the explosive amount of data crossing the network, and it quickly becomes apparent that companies and service providers face a daunting challenge.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) promises to ease the burden by granting service providers the flexibility to move network functions from dedicated appliances to generic servers. Using standard IT virtualization technology, NFV aims to consolidate many network equipment types on to industry-standard, high-volume servers, switches, and storage; doing so makes the networks more agile and efficient.

NFV also is flexible, cost-effective, scalable, and secure. With these benefits, NFV addresses several trends shaping service provider networks.

  • Flexibility: Operators looking to quickly deploy new services require a much more flexible and adaptable network -- one that can be easily and quickly installed and provisioned.
  • Cost: Cost is a top consideration for any operator or service provider these days, even more so now that they see Google and others deploying massive datacenters using off-the-shelf merchant silicon (commoditized hardware) as a way to drive down cost. Cost is also reflected in opex -- how easy it is to deploy and maintain services in the network.
  • Scalability: To adapt quickly to users' changing needs and provide new services, operators must be able to scale their network architecture across multiple servers, rather than being limited by what a single box can do.
  • Security: Security has been, and continues to be, a major challenge in networking. Operators want to be able to provision and manage the network while allowing their customers to run their own virtual space and firewall securely within the network.
  • Virtualization in another service provider network: To meet customers' needs better, service providers want the ability to substantiate their service anywhere in the world using virtualization.

Let's take a closer look at how NFV addresses these trends. By its very nature, NFV makes network and service provisioning more flexible. That allows operators and service providers to scale services up or down quickly to address changing demands. Those services are delivered via software applications on any industry-standard server hardware, one of the most important of which is expected to be security gateways. Rather than buying a hard asset, service providers can simply take the function associated with the asset and instantiate it as a virtual machine on a server.

Because the network functions are implemented in software, they can be easily moved to various locations in the network without having to install new equipment. That means operators and service providers won't need to deploy as many hard assets. Instead, inexpensive, high-volume server infrastructure can be deployed with virtual machines running on top. That's where the cost savings comes in, but NFV's use of virtual machines (software) also makes it scalable.

On top of that, the virtualization eliminates the dependency between a network function and its hardware, allowing operators to have a local or regional presence without needing the infrastructure to support that presence.

Figure 1:

Additional cost savings and benefits are possible depending on how NFV is implemented, using either a server CPU or an approach that marries a server-class CPU with best-in-class networking. The initial implementation of software only cannot address most networking workloads, and its use of IT standard hardware limits the applicability of NFV to just a few applications. The latter approach, a hybrid model of processing and acceleration hardware, not only delivers the power efficiency and improved performance operators and service providers demand, but it does so at a much lower cost.

It's clear that NFV can address the key trends confronting operators and service providers. However, as with any new technology, the road ahead is lined with pitfalls. Despite that, proof of concepts are under way. If all goes well, NFV will soon be transforming the way operators design and implement networks and network services for the better.



Hi Nicholas -- What do you think needs to happen for widespread NFV deployment? Are there any obstacles NFV needs to overcome?

NFV vs. SDN?

Are there any simple explanations for how NFV compares to SDN? 

Many of the definitons that I have read about SDN seem to define it as being more of a big picture concept and NFV as a component that can optionally be lumped together with SDN.  Would you agree with that?  If not, how might you explain the difference?

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Hi AbeG, this article on SDN Central offers a pretty good summary of the differences between NFV and SDN.

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Thanks for the link.  That article is probably the easiest to understand explanation that I have read so far. 

From a big picture point of view, it seems as though SDN & NFV are part of a longterm tug of war between software-centric solutions and hardware-centric solutions. 

Looking back at past examples such as software-based firewalls, VPN servers, etc.  It seems that hardware wins exept when the software version is so tightly integrated with other systems that it becomes the natural choice.

For example, in a Windows environment, DNS, DHCP, and print servers are typically configured as a windows server role, rather than relying on the perfectly functional native capabilities found in firewalls and printer firmware.

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

hey AbeG,

SDN is about virtualization of the network infrastructure, while NFV is about the virtualiztion of network function. NFV may run over SDN. each technology can be used separetely. However using them both will help create a better world :)


Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Salaheddine, Your closing line makes me think you might be a fan of HBO's "Silicon Valley" ?

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

well, its marketing move : ).. but really for NFV as example, we see some real product such as OpenvSwitch that support openflow and some product of different startup around the world(north america and asia) , but for NFV, i don't really think the ETSI will make it.

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Are you referring to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute and the NFV standards I believe it's working on?



Re: NFV vs. SDN?

yes i'm referring to it, it's the organization behind the NFV,

they are working on it, but for example, SDN may see the light cause cloud operator could rebuilt datacenter from scratch, or new datacenter, but we can't simply replace the network infrastructure of a country..

also they provide only paperwhite, just concepts, or in the launch of SDN, there was many real implementation that's why it makes an impact...

I hope thay can make it, that will create many jobs :) and kill others

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Can you elaborate on how NFV will impact jobs? What kind of jobs will it create and what ones it will kill?

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

Well, first i'm just thinking that (since i'm just a student :) not  a specialist )

If NFV reaches all its objective, all vNFs will run on commodity hardware in datacenter. NFV will have features such as auto scaling and orchestration. So after the deployment of application, no human effort is needed  or at least not as in todays network. Also, if all operator uses NFV, who will needs hardware architect (expect intel and amd).

For jobs creation, all compagnies should migrate their solution to software, so they may hire new employees to help them. 


Re: NFV vs. SDN?

It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out. Thanks for all your thoughts and opinions!

Re: NFV vs. SDN?

I've actually thought the same thing with SDN.  Why have your local IT staff make advanced configurations when you could potentially go to the source and have the vendor remote in for assistance.  Assuming you're not in an environment that requires the level of secrecy normally associated with military organizations.