There is a lot of talk about Network Functional Virtualisation and how it can transform the way networks are designed and maintained.  So, what is NFV and does it work?

NFV is the virtualisation of network services that are being carried out by proprietary, dedicated hardware. NFV will decrease the amount of proprietary hardware required to launch and operate network services.

Before getting into the detail of NFV, it is important to first make a distinction between NFV and Software Defined Networking (SDN). The two are different but complementary technologies. Both SDN and NFV rely on software that operates on commodity servers and switches but they operate at different levels of the network.

SDN allows administrators to manage network services through lower-level functionality. This adheres to three principles:

  1. Separation of control and forwarding functions
  2. Centralisation of control
  3. Ability to program the behaviour of the network using well-defined interfaces

In contrast NFV is focused on network appliances that perform path control, protocol manipulation, logging/monitor/capture, content analysis, security control and similar functions. These functions are in use today as routers, firewalls, IDS/IPS, proxy caching, WAN acceleration, data centre and WAN load balancers.  The concept should allow one item of hardware to deliver all of the network related functions at a location – whilst still selecting the products you require, for example, have a network from one supplier but a firewall from another, functioning on the same hardware.

Cost Savings

NFV can reduce operating and capital expenditures. NFV can lower an organisations reliance on proprietary hardware and enables virtualised network functionality on standard, high volume devices. This means that initial purchases for the hardware are reduced – as well as overall operating costs.

Currently, you could purchase a router, firewall, network optimisation device, local file and print etc, all on separate hardware.  With all of these functions running on one item of hardware (or two for resilience reasons) both hardware and support costs are reduced.

Benefits of NFV

  • Flexibility – As NFV uses regular hardware, clients have the ability to build hardware in the most efficient way to suit their needs.
  • Speed of Change – New network services deployed rapidly and on-demand.
  • Scalability – Network resources can be provisioned to respond to changing network conditions.

Does It Work?

There is nothing revolutionary about NFV. After all, we have virtualised computing environments for years.  That said, networking support and maintenance complexities can be a challenge – as can the willingness of large network suppliers to change their approach.  However, NFV is proven and is being deployed by some of the largest suppliers. If they aren’t ignoring it, then neither should you.

Marios Michael, Lead Consultant, StableLogic

For more information on NFV and for an assessment of it it is suitable for your organisation, please contact us.


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