Network Function Virtualization or NFV technology is a virtual network architecture concept. It was developed in response to the need for virtualization of the network services currently being performed by expensive hardware. A very new technology, NFV aims to transform the way network service providers deploy and deliver network services.
Currently network service providers need to install expensive dedicated hardware including routers, firewalls and load balancers to be able to provide reliable network services. Dedicated hardware requires space and power for running efficiently which in turn demands further investment. NFV technology aims to virtualize the entire network service over the cloud by using virtual machines that dynamically install software across network locations eliminating the need for any kind of hardware altogether.
NFV addresses various trends shaping the growth and future of telecom service provider networks:
Flexibility –Seamlessly deploying new services is a priority for telecom operators. The need of the hour today is a relatively more adaptable network, which can be easily installed and provisioned.
Cost – Ensuring optimal pricing is at the top of any telecom operator’s to-do list. To achieve this, several bigwigs, such as Google are deploying data centers with the help of off-the-shelf merchants.
Scalability –To adapt rapidly to the changing user demands and providing suitable services to address them, operators must be capable of scaling their network architecture across servers.
Security – Security has always been a major challenge. Service providers need to manage their network, while at the same time allowing their consumers to run their own virtual space along with firewalls within the network.
Virtualization in another operator network – In order to meet consumer demands in an optimal fashion, operators require to substantiate their services worldwide using virtualization.
Benefits of NFV to the trends shaping operators’ growth
In a nutshell, NFV makes service provisioning and network more flexible. This allows operators to address changing demands, while scaling services rapidly, as per the requirement. These services are delivered on an industry-standard server hardware via software applications, the most significant one of which is security gateways. Instead of buying an asset, operators can single out the function associated with the asset and use it as a virtual machine on the server.
Owing to the fact that network functions are integrated in software, they are easily movable to multiple network locations. This eliminates the need of installing new equipment as hard assets. The cost saving factor comes in with the possibility of deploying inexpensive, high-volume server infrastructure with virtual machines on top making it scalable at the same time.
NFV also eliminates the dependency of network function on its hardware, allowing service providers to have a local presence without any supporting infrastructure.
How NFV unleashes its power?
Network Functions Virtualization or NFV came into existence in direct response to operator needs to make operations more efficient by:
- Reducing the number and variety of hardware equipment required
- Achieve greater CAPEX efficiency
- Simplify network operations
- Leverage new technology for greater OPEX efficiency
- Greater scalability and up gradation
- Reduced cost of maintenance
- Longer hardware network cycles
In other words, NFV technology is based on offloading the network functions into a software program that can be managed remotely from any location within the network area of the operator and is compatible with standard industry hardware. For instance, with the NFV technology, rather than investing in deploying new hardware equipment across the network for managing a network encryption, it is possible to deploy encryption software on an already existing standardized switch or server in the network.
The NFV potential
By reducing dependency on dedicated hardware, NFV allows for increased customization and scalability across the operator network, making it possible to earn additional revenue without the need of significant investment in hardware. Unlike a virtualized network, which virtualizes the entire operator network, NFV only virtualizes the network functions, enabling the operator to still retain control over the network.
NFV has yet to be come into full practical use, however potentially NVF technology has the capability to abstract any network function present in standardized dedicated network hardware and manage the network function as a software module deployed on any standardized networking platform. What’s more, NFV has the potential to replicate the software module on to any other hardware platform as well making it extremely easy to scale up network operations. With the NFV technology, network operators can simplify operations and make them much more cost efficient by integrating multiple isolated hardware equipments into a single network that is easy to manage and expand.
While the full value of NFV is yet to be explored, potential benefits of using NFV can be summed up in the following
- Reduced hardware cost
- Reduced OPEX with fewer equipment to install and maintain
- Increased revenue with faster deployment of services to market as hardware dependence is reduced
- Reduced investment in space and power
- Greater efficiency of capital investment
- Enable greater innovation in service offering
NFV will truly bring in a new wave in network functions as operators realize do away with stand- alone equipment to make use of integrated software applications to run increasingly complex network operations.