Network Function Virtualization or NFV for short is a call to action that looks to aggregate resources across networking, compute and storage.
A collaboration of many of the large players in the telecommunications space, the original NFV call to action focused on lowering the amount of proprietary hardware necessary to launch and operate services. The solution as discussed in the paper, already exists: high-end, virtualized computing resources.
With the addition of SDN, the combination of virtualized computing resources with storage and programmable switches allows Network Operators to add to their solutions portfolios while avoiding vendor lock-in and forced upgrade cycles. Bringing to life Software-led Infrastructure.
An NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG) has been formed with the ETSI.
Values of the NFV concept.
Some of the values to the NFV concept are speed, agility and cost reduction.
By centralizing designs around commodity server hardware, network operators can:
- Do a single PoP/Site design based on commodity compute hardware.
- Avoiding designs involving one-off installs of appliances that have different power, cooling and space needs simplifies planning.
- Utilize resources more effectively.
- Virtualization allows providers to allocate only the necessary resources needed by each feature/function.
- Deploy network functions without having to send engineers to each site.
- “Truck Rolls” are costly both from a time and money standpoint.
Generic processors can be repurposed.
Another key point brought up in the NFV call to action paper is the availability of network optimizations in current generation CPUs. The throughput and functionality of software based routers, switches and other high-touch packet processing devices is constrained by having to send each packet through the processor.
With tools such as Intel’s DPDK and the Linux based NAPI, Intel’s Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge processors can be optimized to provide high-speed forwarding paths allowing for much higher throughput rates.
Programmable switches can move packets for lower costs
While not called out in the NFV call to action, programmable switches are a gateway to NFV nirvana.
OpenFlow, a standard for programming data paths into networking equipment, provides one way to separate the control and data planes. OpenFlow allows for the use of commodity hardware for control plane decision making and inexpensive programmable switches for packet forwarding.
Other benefits to the separation of the control and data planes are:
- The addition of new features and data sources without changing hardware.
- The availability of northbound APIs in OpenFlow controllers allow you to plug in features as necessary.
- Ease of scaling the control plane.
- Since the control plane is run on commodity hardware and has the ability to be virtualized, you can add or subtract resources as needed.
- Programmable hardware allows for better accuracy in the planning of future features.
- Programmable hardware allows the end user to design and deploy a feature or function themselves, rather than relying on the roadmap of the equipment provider.
Network Operators have realized that solutions to their current issues are available today. The combination of key parts of both SDN and Virtualization allows Network Operators to deploy features and functions in a timely and cost effective manner.
By using commodity hardware, costs can be managed and resources allocated effectively.