There’s a new acronym in the communications continuum, and if NFV (network functions virtualization) hasn’t shown up on your radar yet, i.e. you’re not a Tier-One communications service provider, you might want to spare a few moments to consider just what it is and what it will mean in the future. First seeing the light of day at the SDN and OpenFlow World Congress in October 2012, NFV is an initiative to virtualize network functions previously carried out by proprietary, dedicated hardware. With NFV, a range of telecom applications can be virtualized and run on industry standard servers.
NFV was presented by a group of network service providers and is being developed by the ETSI Industry Specification Group (ISG) for Network Functions Virtualization. The intent is to decrease the amount of proprietary hardware that’s needed to launch and operate network services, because network functions previously carried out by routers, firewalls, load balancers and other dedicated hardware would now be hosted on virtual machines (VMs).
“We’re all painfully aware of the current model, where new network services mean more new boxes,” blogged Dan Pitt, Executive Director, Open Networking Foundation (ONF). “Accommodating the physical size, growing energy costs, and capital investment requirements is becoming increasingly challenging for Network Operators worldwide. The Network Functions Virtualization ISG aims to help solve these problems by consolidating disparate network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage, with important emphasis on implementing their functions in software.”
NFV complements the work being done by the ONF in Software Defined Networking (SDN), he said. “OpenFlow-based SDN can enhance the performance of Network Functions Virtualization by simplifying compatibility with existing deployments and facilitating many aspects of network operation and management.”
Following the second meeting of the NFV ISG at the end of April, ONF outlined the technical roadmap for OpenFlow, whose emphasis in 2013 will be “building the OpenFlow substrate to meet market needs, including standard approaches to configuration, management, security, and transport. In addition to providing the foundation on which SDN value is built, the OpenFlow substrate supports the virtualization of many network functions. Thus ONF will continue to work closely with the ETSI network-operator-led Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Industry Specification Group (ISG).”
Big communications SPs are not the only parties interested in NFV. “The NFV strategy is well aligned with the Cisco Open Networking Environment approach, with network service functions distributed among specialized hardware equipment and general-purpose computing in a cloud-based environment.”
IBM announced its NFV support for carriers at the end of February. Oracle is another major IT vendor showing strong interest in NFV software with its acquisitions of Tekelec and Acme Packet, with additional acquisitions likely.
Even Intel wants to play. “SDN and NFV are critical elements of Intel’s vision to transform the expensive, complex networks of today to a virtualized, programmable, standards-based architecture running commercial off-the-shelf hardware,” said Rose Schooler, vice president of Intel Architecture Group and general manager of Intel’s Communications and Storage Infrastructure Group.
The bottom line is that like the rest of the virtualization posse, NFV can dramatically reduce CAPEX, simplify operations, and speed up the introduction of new services.