Written by Ken Corkins, Director of Network Solutions, Datatrend Technologies, Inc.
Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is a telecommunications industry effort to transform how network services are delivered and deployed. Much like the server virtualization wave of the last few years, the goal of NFV is to deploy Network Functions (routers, firewalls, etc.) as virtual machines using general-purpose servers, storage and hypervisor technologies.
In November 2012, seven of the world’s leading telecom network operators selected European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) to be the home of the Industry Specification Group (ISG) for NFV. Since then, more than 200 companies have joined the effort, including service providers and manufacturers.
To date, the NFV ISG has produced multiple specifications ranging from architectural overviews and architectures to proof of concept (PoC) frameworks and use cases.
At a high-level, the NFV ISG outlines three abstractions as a means to define the architectural framework.
Virtual Network Functions
A VNF is a virtualization of a network function in a legacy non-virtualised network[i].
Examples of VNFs include; Evolved Packet Core (EPC) network elements, service gateways, DHCP servers, firewalls, etc. A VNF could be constructed from multiple internal virtual components and managed as a single functional element, or a single device. The NFV ISG is working with multiple vendors to develop products to work within an NFV deployment.
The servers, storage and networking equipment used to build the infrastructure where the VNFs are deployed is called the Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure (NFV-I). The NFV-I can span across multiple physical locations, allowing for the deployment of the VF in the most effective location for the service, rather than being bound to a location where the physical hardware exists.
MANO is the Management and Orchestration block of the model. It contains a variety of management and orchestration functions in order to operate both the VNFs as well as the NFV-I.
- Virtualized Infrastructure Managers are the tools to manage the underlying virtualization infrastructure (NFV-I) including hypervisors, servers, storage controllers, etc.
- VNF Managers are responsible for lifecycle management (deployment, scaling, terminating, etc.) of the VNFs. Multiple VNF Managers may be deployed to support the various VNFs in use.
- NFV Orchestration is used to ensure the NFV platform nodes are configured and running the correct software, and also to orchestrate the service delivery chain.
The MANO block is where the NFV model interfaces with the Operational Support System/Business Support System (OSS/BSS) of the provider, in order to continue to effectively maintain business functions.
By moving the deployment of specialized hardware network nodes to virtualized network functions on a standardized, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) virtualization platform, service providers intend to reduce both operational and capital expenditures, as well as realize the benefits of rapid deployment of new service offerings.
By moving to general-purpose servers, storage and hypervisor technologies, capital expenditures could be reduced. By reducing the number of hardware platforms, and sharing the platform across multiple functions, operational efficiencies can be realized.
In using a streamlined infrastructure, improved flexibility in deploying VNFs into the infrastructure is possible. This includes the ability to locate the VNF to be deployed in the most network-appropriate location, rather than based on hardware physical location. Additional benefits include the ability to rapidly deploy and decommission VNFs as needed.
By streamlining the deployment, rapid service innovation can be accomplished using improved operational efficiencies based on common automation and operating procedures.
While few data center operators have need for a virtualized EPC, some of the more common VNFs could be used in a traditional datacenter deployment. For example, virtual routers, firewalls, load balancers, and even Session Border Controllers (SBC) are common elements in traditional datacenter network deployments. As the ETSI ISG help the product vendors move to virtualized versions of their products, traditional data center managers could also benefit from the same factors the Telecom providers are striving for.
SDN and NFV
NFV and SDN (Software Defined Networking) are not mutually exclusive but are, in fact, complementary technologies. Since NFV defines the virtualization of the network function, Software Defined Networking centrally controls the forwarding path of traffic through a network. By combining SDN technologies with NFV, greater flexibility and control of packet flows through the services chain are possible.
Network Function Virtualization has helped bring about rapid change in the telecom services industry. As more and more service providers and network product manufacturers join the charge to a virtualized network, service providers, as well as network services consumers, stand to gain from the increased flexibility and agility of this emerging technology trend.
Datatrend Technologies has subject-matter expertise across many of the functional blocks of the NFV architecture. With our strong skills in all aspects of the NFV-I, as well as alliances with many of the leading vendors and service providers that make this technology approach viable, Datatrend is able to help you with any aspect of this exciting industry shift.
For more information on NFV, please contact Ken Corkins, Director of Network Solutions, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
High-level NFV framework, Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV); Architectural Framework V1.2.1 (2014-12) pg. 10
 Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV); Architectural Framework V1.2.1 (2014-12) pg. 14