Network functions virtualization (NFV) sometimes goes by another name in the industry — virtual network function (VNF). Often used interchangeably, both focus primarily on optimization of the network services, contrary to software-defined networking (SDN), which separates the control and forwarding plane for a centralized view of the network. Virtual network function is designed to consolidate and deliver the networking components necessary to support a full virtualized environment.
However, in an NFV environment, a virtual network function (or VNF) takes on the responsibility of handling specific network functions that run on one or more virtual machines (VMs) on top of the hardware networking infrastructure — routers, switches, etc. Individual virtual network functions can be connected or combined together as building blocks to offer a full-scale networking communication service.
Virtual Network Function (VNF) Background
Virtual network function came to fruition when service providers attempted to speed up deployment of new network services in order to advance their revenue and growth plans. They soon discovered that hardware-based appliances limited their ability to achieve these goals. They looked to standard IT virtualization technologies and found virtual network function helped accelerate service innovation and provisioning. With this, several providers banded together and created the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). The creation of ETSI resulted in the foundation of virtual network function’s basic requirements and architecture.
ETSI continues to innovate virtual network functions with new projects. Announced in September 2014, the Linux Foundation announced its open source reference platform, the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV). OPNFV will work closely with ETSI to push for consistent open standards for NFV based VNFs.