When used together, edge computing and network functions virtualization (NFV) create solutions not possible on their own. They allow for increased throughput, as well as optimal use and management of network resources.
The standard architecture for edge computing, as laid out by ETSI under the name Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), is designed so its individual components are very similar to NFV components. This makes it easy to combine the two, replacing certain MEC components with ones from NFV that handle the same or similar functions.
Edge computing, a type of distributed cloud, denotes computing that takes place on the edge of a network, such as base stations like radio towers and local data centers. NFV transitions network service functions from hardware to software. This virtualized infrastructure is a key component of both MEC and NFV architectures.
Edge Computing’s Low Latency with NFV’s Scalability Means Dynamic Computing
Together the edge and NFV offer an effective solution to modern computing by ensuring speed and reliability to end users.
Scalability and Low Latency
One benefit of using both the edge and NFV is the combination of scalability and low latency. NFV delivers scalability for networking computing, scaling the network’s resources up and down depending on need and application usage.
Edge computing offers low latency. The latency time from transmitting data to the data center and back to the end user is shortened since the edge is closer to the user, creating a faster computing experience. Edge technology also adapts services like video streaming to use the optimal bit rate for the given conditions of a radio access network (RAN).
Combined, these characteristics deliver dynamic, quick, and reliable computing. The management and scaling capabilities allow for optimal use of network resources. Another perk of edge computing and NFV’s scalability is that data can either remain at the edge of the network, or data can be offloaded to the cloud when computing demands peak.
Network Slicing and Reliability
Network slicing is possible through NFV. Different partitions (or slices) of the edge can be targeted for specific network functions. This practice ensures that those high-bandwidth applications receive the networking capabilities they need without hindering the computing functions for other applications using the same network edge. With edge computing’s proximity, there is less of a chance for a network problem than with a distant network node. Edge’s low latency gives network slicing an additional boost in throughput by ensuring consistent services and connectivity for high-bandwidth applications and products, such as autonomous vehicles and medical robotic instruments. These are common use cases in 5G networks, which will use edge computing and NFV heavily.
As mentioned earlier, MEC architecture and NFV architecture may be distinct or converge into one architecture to satisfy computing objectives. A MEC NFV multilayer architecture ensures the quality of service throughout the lifecycle of applications running on the network edge. Edge computing will play a significant role in alleviating and solving network demands as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the 5G era advance. A few organizations have proposed the layout of the MEC NFV converged architectures, including the architectures featured in these papers:
- “Monitoring self-adaptive applications within edge computing frameworks: A state-of-the-art review”
- “An MEC and NFV Integrated Network Architecture”
Updated April 2019