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Network Function Virtualization – A primer

Network Functions Virtualization is conceptualized as the next wave in the technology world that leverages standard IT virtualization technology to completely transform the existing traditional based network architecture of telecom operators. The idea was to enable consolidation of varieties of proprietary onto industry standard servers, switches and storage with high volume capacity.

To meet the growing trend of software based networking technologies, in October 2012, an Industry Specification Group (ISG) within the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) was formed that consisted of  over twenty of the world’s largest telecommunications service providers with the aim  to define Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and plan for its practical implementations in the real world.

The theoretical concept of NFV is to simplify the network complexity of deploying hundreds of equipment but to decouple such   network functions from dedicated hardware devices like routers, firewalls, load balancers etc.and allow network services to be hosted on virtual machines (VMs)  under the control of a hypervisor i.e. a virtualization layer, on standard x86 servers.Network administrators will also find it easy to relocate the virtual machine or software based network functions to another physical server or provisions another virtual machine on the original server to take share part of the load during heavy bandwidth requirements by the users or in cases of unavoidable situations like failures.

This concept was brought into existence basically to meet various challenges like equipment and operational costs, power consumption, and time-to-market for new services and functionality that telecom network operators are still facing in their current architectures that comprise of dedicated telecom network equipment.

The telecom network operators will no longer have to be dependent on proprietary hardware from specific vendors and can deploy more devices virtually without any geographical or site constraints.

The market for NFV solution providers is massive and all the solutions in relation to technology are being developed at a very fast pace. Telecom Network Operators across the globe are collaborating with all these NFV solution providers in order to setup their own NFV based infrastructure as quickly as possible. The proposed advantages of NFV has raised the expectations of Telecom Network Operators as well as increased the competition in the NFV market to provide end to end solutions in various environments.

Market research predicts that the global service provider SDN/NFV market will reach $11 billion in 2018, dividing the NFV Market revenue  into three categories  of new SDN/ NFV software products ( 20% ) , products that companies will buy instead of buying the ‘displaced’ revenue (12% of SDN/NFV Market) and newly identified segments of existing markets: mostly the virtualized network functions (VNFs), and also ports on routers, switches, and optical gear (68% of SDN/NFV Market).

NFV enables the separation of network functions from dedicated hardware using a private carrier cloud infrastructure. It allows service providers greater freedom in distributing service functionality throughout a network coverage area, and network functions can be shared across common hardware. NFV will bring not only cost efficiencies   but will also improve time-to-market for rolling out of new services and bring innovation to the telecommunication industry infrastructure and applications. It will be achieved through disaggregation of the traditional technology involved in telecommunications applications. To run a distributed NFV infrastructure efficiently, a number of challenges concerning networking, hardware, power consumption etc. need to be addressed so that the operators have the flexibility to relocate network functions from dedicated appliances to industry-standard, high-volume servers, switches and storage. Hence the Service providers are taking one step at a time i.e. virtualizing only few network functions and not all. The widespread implementation of NFV in the service provider network will still take a few more years.

-Prof. Yatin Jog

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