Network functions virtualization (NFV) replaces the traditional network by virtualizing network services rather than operating them on proprietary dedicated hardware. That hardware is now just commodity hardware that runs software to accomplish functions such as routing, and firewalls. What used to require a physical replacement when technology advanced, now just needs to be patched or updated.
Companies using NFV can rely on edge computing to connect their offices to resources on the cloud. NFV services are deployed on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware platforms, typically running on Intel x86-based hardware and standard switching hardware. The combination of a base level hardware with this novel type of software creates a virtualized network that is not dependent on specific hardware.
The European Telecommunications Standards Institute Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (ETSI ISG NFV) took the helm developing NFV technologies and creating a common reference architecture. The NFV architecture the ETSI work group NFV MANO developed includes an Element Management System, which is responsible for fault, configuration, accounting, performance, and security of virtual network functions in the NFV system.
Faster Services Delivery
The main appeal of using NFV to deploy network services and virtual network functions (VNFs) is that services can be launched quickly, by installing software on a standard hardware platform. This is similar to the way software applications could be developed and launched for the PC platform when it first emerged. In addition, standardized hardware platforms lower capital expenditures (capex) because they are cheaper than proprietary ones.
The NFV model also adds flexibility, allowing service providers to launch, improve, and incrementally optimize services using software updates rather than wholesale hardware replacement. It will also create an ecosystem of third-party software vendors eager to supply improvement.
Inside the VNF
Traditional network architectures are defined as logical systems, usually connected to specific physical hardware or facilities, used to deliver a service. With NFV, these elements become virtualized as software installations that are placed on commodity hardware. These boxes can then be used for multiple purposes instead of a single purpose.
An NFV platform is designed to host any of the many VNFs being offered on the marketplace. These VNFs are so numerous because any network service or function that is not baked into a piece of hardware can be a VNF. These include services such as load balancing, DDoS protection, and evolved packet core functions. With start-ups and large enterprises alike offering VNFs like those and many more, diversity and number of VNFs will only grow.
For recent developments in NFV, refer to this hub of information.
Updated March 2019