Software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) gives unprecedented flexibility in network architecture. It frees administrators from the need for a large amount of dedicated hardware. The topology can change as needed, with everything managed from a central console or automated through an API. Routers, switches, and firewalls run on generic hardware.
NFV is of special value to service providers. When a network extends to customers’ premises, the need to manage hardware appliances is a serious inconvenience. Deploying virtualized network functions is faster and doesn’t require in-person visits in most cases.
The emergence of standards
For NFV to be taken seriously, it needs to be interoperable. System operators have to be able to use NFV software from different vendors, or else they’re just as locked in as they would be with dedicated hardware. There is no universally accepted set of standards yet, but several organizations are working toward standardization. As products become more standardized, it will become easier to deploy complex networks with network functions from multiple vendors.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) has taken a leading role in NFV standardization, with the formation of an Industry Specification Group for NFV. It has released over a hundred publications, covering not just the technical functionality but business, development, and security aspects.
The Open Platform for NFV provides a reference implementation, supported by a broad community. ETSI and the OPNFV community have worked together to define and test the platform.
The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) has defined APIs for service orchestration over SDN and NFV. This lets service providers automate virtual network functions and associated business operations in a vendor-independent way.
NFV for large networks
Enterprise networks span multiple locations, and service provider networks extend to their customers’ premises. NFV provides major advantages over deploying hardware appliances in every location. Administrators can change the topology as needed. Adding, deleting, or merging subnets is simply a matter of changing the configuration.
A central dashboard eliminates the need to configure each network device separately. The administrator gets an overview of the entire network, to remember all switches at remote locations.
Network functions run on generic hardware, with major cost savings compared with dedicated appliances. Obsolescence is less of a problem. Network functions may have to migrate to new computers every few years, but they stay the same as far as the network is concerned. Replacing a hardware router or firewall is a bigger task.
NFV for service providers
Providers of network services get the biggest benefits of NFV. With a network extending to the customer’s premises, eliminating as much dependency as possible on hardware and manual configuration is a major business issue.
NFV allows deploying requested services more quickly. Nothing more is needed than a configuration change, so new services can become available in seconds or minutes rather than hours or days. In many cases, it’s possible to handle requests without a service visit. Using the MEF APIs in conjunction with NFV can enable order fulfillment without human intervention.
These capabilities reduce support costs while giving customers better service. Being able to add options quickly will encourage customers to take full advantage of them.
A technology with growing value
The growing complexity of networks, the expectation of fast service, the development of standards, and the prospect of cost savings all contribute to the growing value of SDN with NFV. Wide-area networks are easier to manage, and service providers can deal more quickly and efficiently with customer requests.
NFV encourages a new way of thinking about the network, one that isn’t limited by a particular arrangement of hardware. Those who are ready to take up this new approach stand to gain the most. Talk with us to find out how you can plan for a future with SDN and NFV.