Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) has turned a lot of heads in the telecom world, promising to improve network performance and open up new revenue opportunities and product offerings to enterprise clients. Industry members may still be a bit skeptical of how beneficial NFV solutions are and the extent to which that they can provide tangible value. Is NFV all it's cracked up to be, and can it truly lead to the creation of lucrative telecom services?
The answer is, unreservedly, yes. NFV solutions not only speed up service delivery but establish the foundation for a whole host of additional on-demand services.
The disruptive force of NFV
There is a sense of urgency among Communication Service Providers (CSPs) when it comes to deploying NFV solutions. Those who make early inroads with this technology will hold an incredible competitive edge in the marketplace. As Gartner noted, the pressure is mounting for CSPs to lay stake to their NFV claims and establish a firm footing in this particular service area. Although NFV investments have historically been experimental in nature, service providers are ramping up development to find applications that provide tangible value.
CSPs that wisely invest in NFV solutions won't be disappointed. There are a number of use cases for this technology, but the most compelling may be the ability to offer customers cloud-hosted, add-on features to build out network functionality and performance. Such tools include:
- Load balancers.
- Application delivery controllers.
- WAN optimization controllers.
- Virtual routing and switching tools.
First, it's important to understand and differentiate some terms. What is a Software Defined Network (SDN)? What is an SD-WAN? What is the difference between NFV and VNF? Are they not the exact same words just in a different order? Well, yes, they are, but they are different things and they are not interchangeable.
The SDN concept is an architecture where the network control plane (network traffic decisions) is separated from the forwarding plane (the actual traffic itself). SDN effectively moves network control into software, centralized off the proprietary switches, makes it directly programmable and able to efficiently react to changes on the network via configurations and policies on the fly. This same SDN concept allows for abstraction of applications and services off from proprietary underlying infrastructure.
"CSPs that wisely invest in NFV solutions won't be disappointed."
The NFV is an architectural design that specifies how to run Software Defined Network (SDN) functions independent of any specific hardware platform. The VNF is the actual implementation of a single specific network function like routing, firewalls, intrusion protection as Virtualized Network Functions which can be centrally deployed and managed as software.
SD-WAN takes advantage of all of these concepts above for enterprises on relatively inexpensive technology, utilizes standards-based SDN concepts to replace Customer Premise Equipment which sit at remote sites, can virtualize services, can integrate new network services, can load-share data traffic over multiple network links of any kind, provide for simplified configuration and policy controls and also optimizes application performance in real-time.
Virtual network functions present real value
NFV paves the way for CSPs to deploy Virtual Network Functions (VNF) as managed services faster than ever before. The scope of this ecosystem of VNF providers is incredible, ranging from security-based tools to SD-WAN as a VNF on vCPE to network and application performance enhancement.
Being able to now give your enterprise clients the ability to implement and enable a VNF at the click of a few mouse clicks is where we really see VNFs shine.
From a security standpoint, VNFs can significantly improve network stability and defend against potential intrusions and disruptions. Virtual firewalls, for instance, can be added on-demand to shore up perimeter security and prevent unapproved traffic from accessing the network.
One of the more compelling security-based VNFs is distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection. DDoS attacks can be major headaches for service providers, overwhelming networks, consuming bandwidth and even causing prolonged periods of downtime. Such incidents are often extremely costly for the victims. Unfortunately, it's becoming easier for cybercriminals to deploy such attacks, as the rise of the Internet of Things offers more opportunities to create malicious botnets with compromised connected devices.
In fact, a 2017 Corero study concluded that the IoT was a major contributing factor to the massive uptick in reported DDoS attacks last year. The frequency of such attacks doubled over the course of just six months, and there's no reason to think the threat will subside anytime soon. DDoS protection will be a major asset for any organization concerned about downtime and network disruption.
The good news is the technology is way beyond the theoretical, proof-of-concept stage and is ready to be deployed in real-world conditions. NFV solutions stand poised to revolutionize telecom service delivery, and the sooner CSPs embrace this technology, the sooner they can reap its benefits.