A network functions virtualization (NFV) data center (or NFV Data Center) is the infrastructure used by service providers to host communications and networking services. These services can be loaded as cloud-based software on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) server hardware. The applications are hosted in a data center so that they could be accessed via the cloud.
The approach of using an NFV data center differs from previous deployments of specialized applications with the use of COTS hardware, rather than requiring specialized, proprietary network hardware or appliances. It has large potential for service providers, who hope to reduce operation and capital costs. By standardizing the hardware, they gain more flexibility by being able to add or subtract services as software loaded on a more economical, standardized hardware infrastructure.
A New Source of Speed
Global service providers traditionally built services one-by-one, using specific network and hardware networks for each service. For example, a broadband service required specialized hardware for managing subscriber logins and bandwidth management. For example, firewalls were deployed for security services. Evolved Packet Core (EPC) units were deployed on specialized hardware platforms to handle mobile subscribers.
All of this is changing. The global operators would like to be able to take any potential network functions — whether it be subscriber management, security, load balancing, or a number of other network applications and functions — and deploy them as software in a data center, rather than building specific hardware. In theory, this approach would allow operators to develop and deploy more services with scale and agility.
Using NFV data centers, services can be developed using operating platforms including open source and then connected to other platforms with open standards and application programming interfaces (APIs). This could result in more services being offered in the cloud using a customer-focused Web provisioning system, following the cloud model for enterprise software.
The Cloud Model
Many service provider experts expect NFV to bring the approach of cloud providers to the service provider landscape, leading them to be more responsive to customer needs. Existing service provider networks are complex, costly, and difficult to manage. By standardizing on the standard hardware platform, service providers hope to reduce the complexity by virtualizing more of the network functions as software.
The potential applications and services that could be deployed in a NFV data center are wide-ranging, including mobile services such as EPC, network address translation (NAT), virtual firewalls, domain name service (DNS), intrusion detection services (IDS), load balancing, application delivery control (ADC), and many others.