What is Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)? — Part I


The concept of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) was first exposed in 2012 as an opportunity for managed service providers to help their clients simplify the addition of new computer network functionality, particularly where Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs) are involved. In a more specific description, Network World describes NFV like this: “Network functions virtualization (NFV) uses commodity servers to replace specialized network appliances for more flexible, efficient and scalable services.” In other words, NFV is an effort to virtualize any network services that typically run on proprietary hardware. Using NFV, things like routing, firewalls, and load balancing are offered as virtual machines (VMs) on basic functional hardware. Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) are an essential component of NFV.

Migration to NFV

In a successful NFV migration, an IT organization replaces its dedicated network equipment like routers and firewalls, for example, with software that runs on commercial off the shelf (COTS) servers. These are packaged servers that are readily available to consumers. This type of server solution compares to a proprietary hardware solution in which costs can be higher, control may be minimized, and spare parts may need to be stocked. The first step in such a migration involves VNF onboarding in which network virtualization in the cloud is achieved. The long-term outcomes are favorable and often include cost savings, agility, and flexibility in the IT network environment. Consider a VNF package deal in which you receive assured performance, service, and fault management and efficiencies in cloud computing.

Why Network Functions Platform?

With an overall goal to transform the network operations using IT virtualization, NFV is a way to consolidate network equipment using high-volume, industry-standard servers, storage, and switches generally via an efficient cloud-based data center. Network functions virtualization is said to replace traditional customizable network equipment and offer a variety of benefits to both providers and organizations.

Benefits in an NFV Migration

Keep in mind, it is service providers initially finding the most benefits in network functions virtualization, because they can in turn offer these benefits to enterprises. When improved scalability and network efficiencies are obtained at the provider level, these services are passed down to the organizational level and offer a win-win scenario for both provider and consumer. A provider can offer NFV in a virtual environment with little effort and minimal costs involved in new or upgraded hardware. With an NFV migration, companies experience a reduction in power consumption and the need for less dedicated hardware space and physical equipment.

Along with network functions virtualization, a common and must-have component for success includes Software Defined Networking (SDN). This software is required for the automated management of an NFV network solution. SDN and NFV work hand in hand for a full-scale network solution.

Considerations For An NFV Deployment

The standards for NFV management have shown some controversy, as there are many options. Working with a reputable provider is key to any NFV deployment decision. The standards often evolve and change, so current industry knowledge by the provider is a must. Look for management, automation, and orchestration (MANO) solutions that integrate with your VNF infrastructure. MANO is essential for VNF provisioning and network functions virtualization management. It will be important to invest in the right standards as they evolve.

Working With an Expert

Whether you are a service provider or an IT leader, the positive gains in an NFV network are worthy. The ultimate network virtualization benefits to either party include long-term cost savings, added efficiencies, and preparation for future technologies. Find an expert like RackCo to guide you for your next migration. Virtualization in a public or private cloud setting can be a seamless transition when you select the right team for full-term support. Along with Network Functions Virtualization, you may want to learn more about Network Functions Platform. Watch for the next article in this two-part series, What is Network Functions Platform—Part II.