Network functions virtualization (NFV) defines standards for compute, storage, and networking resources that can be used to build virtualized network functions. NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) is a key component of the NFV architecture that describes the hardware and software components on which virtual networks are built.
NFV leverages the economies of scale of the IT industry. NVFI is based on widely available and low-cost, standardized computing components. The NFVI works with servers – virtual, bare metal, or other – and the software, hypervisors, virtual machines, and virtual infrastructure managers to enable the physical and virtual layer of the network.
NFVI standards help increase the interoperability of the components of the virtual network functions and aim to enable multivendor environments.
How an NFVI Fits Into NFV
The NFV architecture comprises major components – including virtualized network functions (VNFs), NFV management and orchestration (MANO), and NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) – that work with traditional network components like OSS/BSS.
NFVI is composed of NFV infrastructure points-of-presence (NFVI-PoPs) which are where the VNFs, including resources for computation, storage, and networking, are deployed by a network operator. NFVI networks interconnect the computing and storage resources contained in an NFVI-PoP. This may include specific switching and routing devices to allow external connectivity.
NFVI works directly with VNFs and virtual infrastructure managers (VIMs) and in concert with the NFV orchestrator. NFV services are instantiated at the directive of the NFV orchestrator, which calls on VIMs that manage the resources from the underlying infrastructure (NVFI).
NFVI is as critical to realizing the business benefits outlined by the NFV architecture as any other functional block. It delivers the actual physical resources and corresponding software on which VNFs can be deployed.
NFVI creates a virtualization layer that sits right above the hardware and abstracts the HW resources, so they can be logically partitioned and provided to the VNF to perform their functions.
NFVI is also critical to building more complex networks without geographic limitations of traditional network architectures.
The NFVI Market
The current market for NFVI varies greatly, and there is even debate among vendors as to what constitutes an NFVI component. Vendors have differing interpretations of how to implement the ETSI VNF definitions. Some vendors build complete solutions that include their existing hardware and software solutions, while others provide more focused offerings.
SdxCentral’s 2016 “Mega NFV Report Pt. 1: MANO and NFVI” identifies 22 NFVI vendors. These range from established network players like Cisco, which offers Cisco NFV Infrastructure, and Ericsson, which offers Ericsson Cloud Execution Environment, to smaller, software-based competitors like 6Wind that offers 6WINDGate Packet Processing Software. VMware is well established with its vCloud offering that combines both NFVI and VIM functions.