Network functions virtualization (NFV) provides a new way to create, distribute, and operate networking services. It is the process of decoupling the network functions from proprietary hardware appliances so they can run in software on standardized hardware. These functions (such as firewall, deep packet inspection, and intrusion prevention) become virtual network functions (VNF).
NFV is designed to consolidate and deliver the networking components needed to support an infrastructure totally independent from hardware. These components include virtual compute, storage and network functions. NFV utilizes standard IT virtualization technologies that run on off-the-shelf hardware like commodity x86 servers. It is applicable to any data plane processing or control plane function in both wired and wireless network infrastructures.
High-level NFV framework. Source: ETSI
The Benefits of NFV
NFV virtualizes network services via software to enable operators to:
- Reduce CapEx by reducing the need to purchase purpose-built hardware and using pay-as-you-grow models to eliminate wasteful over-provisioning.
- Reduce OpEX by reducing space, power and cooling requirements of equipment and simplifying the rollout and management of network services.
- Accelerate time-to-market by reducing the time required to deploy new networking services to support changing business requirements, new market opportunities, and return on investment of new services. NFV lowers the risks associated with rolling out new services, allowing providers to easily trial and evolve services to determine what best meets the needs of customers.
- Deliver agility and flexibility to quickly scale services up or down to address changing demands; services can be delivered via software on any industry-standard server hardware.
History of Network Functions Virtualization
The concept of NFV originated from service providers who wanted to make adding new network functions or applications easier and faster. The constraints of hardware-based appliances led them to apply standard IT virtualization technologies to their networks. To accelerate progress towards this common goal, the companies who had formed the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) devoted resources to a new group, the Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (ISG NFV) in January 2013.
The ETSI ISG NFV is a group charged with developing requirements and architecture for virtualization of various functions within telecoms networks, such as standards like NFV management and network orchestration (MANO). ETSI is also instrumental in collaborative projects like the newly announced OPNFV.
Updated February 2019