Network function virtualization (NFV)

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Network function virtualization (NFV)

Network function virtualization (NFV) is network architecture concept set by the ETSI’s Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (ISG NFV) to provide a new way to design, deploy and manage specific networking services.

Designed to decouple network functions from specific hardware devices and then consolidating and running those same functions as virtualized applications. The NFV is used for several virtualization network functions, including firewalls, network address translation (NAT), domain name service (DNS), caching, intrusion detection and other specialized network applications.

The network function virtualization (NFV) is a concept related to software-defined networking (SDN) and although they both focus on network virtualization and networks management, they refer to different domains and use different methods.

While SDN is used to manage one or more networking devices from a centralized location, the NFV focused on virtualization of networking functions. Both SDN can be run independently or can be combined in some scenarios. According to ETSI, NFV and SDN are highly complementary but not inter-dependent.


 

As noted, the network function virtualization (NFV) concept was established by the ETSI Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (ETSI ISG NFV) back in October 2012. The same group has also defined the requirements and architecture for the virtualization of network functions by the end of 2014. ETSI ISG NFV has published more than 50 publications covering NFV security, management, orchestration and other aspects.

According to whitepapers and several publications, NFV brings several benefits by providing flexibility, cost-effective, scalable and, most importantly, secure way of virtualizing various network functions.

According to ETSI, some of the key NFV benefits include:

  • Reduced operator CAPEX and OPEX through reduced equipment costs and reduced power consumption
  • Reduced time-to-market to deploy new network services
  • Improved return on investment from new services
  • Greater flexibility to scale up, scale down or evolve services
  • Openness to the virtual appliance market and pure software entrants
  • Opportunities to trial and deploy new innovative services at lower risk

In addition to the ETSI, other groups have also been formed that also focus on development and evolution of the NFV, including the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV).
The OPNFV has been working hard in enhancing some of the key NFV components including NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) and Virtualized Infrastructure Management (VIM), by integrating them in some projects like the OpenDaylight, ONOS, OpenStack, Ceph, KVM, Open vSwitch and Linux.

According to OPNFV, main goals of its reference platform include:

  • Develop an integrated and tested open source platform that can be used to build NFV functionality — accelerating the introduction of new products and services
  • Include participation of leading end users to validate that OPNFV meets the needs of user community
  • Contribute to and participate in relevant open source projects that will be leveraged in the OPNFV platform; ensuring consistency, performance, and interoperability among open source components
  • Establish an ecosystem for NFV solutions based on open standards and software to meet the needs of end users
  • Promote OPNFV as the preferred platform and community for open source NFV

Although NFV is essentially a new concept it has been widely embraced by mobile operators and service providers. Some of those companies include the names like AT&T, Verizon, Cisco, Oracle, Dell, Microsoft, Broadcom, Juniper Networks, HP, F5 Networks and others.

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