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Friday, October 24, 2014

NFV Essentials

What is NFV – Network Functions Virtualization?

What is NFV – Network Functions Virtualization?

Network functions Virtualization (NFV) offers a new way to design, deploy and manage networking services. Network Functions Virtualization or NFV  decouples the network functions, such as network address translation (NAT), firewalling, intrusion detection, domain name service (DNS), caching, etc., from proprietary hardware appliances, so they can run in software. It’s designed to consolidate and deliver the networking components needed to support a fully virtualized infrastructure – including virtual servers, storage and even other networks.  It utilizes standard IT virtualization technologies that run on high-volume service, switch and storage hardware to virtualize network functions. It is applicable to any data plane processing or control plane function in both wired and wireless network infrastructures.

Example of How a Managed Router Service Would be Deployed with NFV. 

History of NFV

The concept for Network Functions Virtualization or NFV originated from service providers who were looking to accelerate the deployment of new network services to support their revenue and growth objectives. They felt the constraints of hardware-based appliances, so they wanted to apply standard IT virtualization technologies to their networks. To accelerate progress towards this common goal, several providers came together and created an ETSI Industry Specification Group for NFV. (Full member list). The goal is to define the requirements and architecture for the virtualization of network functions. The group is currently working on the standards and will be delivering the first specifications soon.

The Benefits of NFV

NFV virtualizes network services via software to enable operators to:

  • Reduce CapEx: reducing the need to purchase purpose-built hardware and supporting pay-as-you-grow models to eliminate wasteful overprovisioning.
  • Reduce OpEX: reducing space, power and cooling requirements of equipment and simplifying the roll out and management of network services.
  • Accelerate Time-to-Market: reducing the time to deploy new networking services to support changing business requirements, seize new market opportunities and improve return on investment of new services. Also lowers the risks associated with rolling out new services, allowing providers to easily trial and evolve services to determine what best meets the needs of customers.
  • Deliver Agility and Flexibility: quickly scale up or down services to address changing demands; support innovation by enabling services to be delivered via software on any industry-standard server hardware.

Why SDN – Software-Defined Networking or NFV – Network Functions Virtualization Now?

Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV) and network virtualization (NV) are giving us new ways to design, build and operate networks. Over the past two decades, we have seen tons of innovation in the devices we use to access the network, the applications and services we depend on to run our lives, and the computing and storage solutions we rely on to hold all that “big data” for us, however, the underlying network that connects all of these things has remained virtually unchanged. The reality is the demands of the exploding number of people and devices using the network are stretching its limits. It’s time for a change.

The Constraints of Hardware

Historically, the best networks – a.k.a. those that are the most reliable, have the highest availability and offer the fastest performance, etc. – are those built with custom silicon (ASICs) and purpose-built hardware. The “larger” the “box,” the higher the premium vendors can command, which only incents the development of bigger, even more complex, monolithic systems.

Because it takes a significant investment to build custom silicon and hardware, rigorous processes are required to ensure vendors get the most out of each update or new iteration. This means adding features ad hoc is virtually impossible. Customers that want new or different functionality to address their requirements, end up beholden to the vendor’s timeline.  It is so challenging to try to make any changes to these systems, even those that are “open,” that most companies have a team of experts (many of whom are trained and certified by the networking companies, themselves) on hand to keep the network up and running.

The hardware predominance has truly stifled the innovation in the network. It’s time for ‘out of the box’ thinking; it’s time to free the software and change everything…

The Time for Changes in Networking is Now

Thanks to the advances in today’s off-the-shelf hardware, developer tools and standards, a seismic technology shift in networking to software can finally take place. It’s this shift that underlies all SDN, NFV and NV technologies –software can finally be decoupled from the hardware, so that it’s no longer constrained by the box that delivers it. This is the key to building networks that can:

  • Reduce CapEx: allowing network functions to run on off-the-shelf hardware.
  • Reduce OpEX: supporting automation and algorithm control through increased programmability of network elements to make it simple to design, deploy, manage and scale networks.
  • Deliver Agility and Flexibility: helping organizations rapidly deploy new applications, services and infrastructure to quickly meet their changing requirements.
  • Enable Innovation: enabling organizations to create new types of applications, services and business models.

Which is Better – SDN or NFV?

Software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization (NFV) and network virtualization (NV), are all complementary approaches. They each offer a new way to design deploy and manage the network and its services:

  • SDN – separates the network’s control (brains) and forwarding (muscle) planes and provides a centralized view of the distributed network for more efficient orchestration and automation of network services.
  • NFV – focuses on optimizing the network services themselves. NFV decouples the network functions, such as DNS, Caching, etc., from proprietary hardware appliances, so they can run in software to accelerate service innovation and provisioning, particularly within service provider environments.
  • NV – ensures the network can integrate with and support the demands of virtualized architectures, particularly those with multi-tenancy requirements.


SDN, NFV and NV each aim to advance a software-based approach to networking for more scalable, agile and innovative networks that can better align and support the overall IT objectives of the business.  It is not surprising that some common doctrines guide the development of each. For example, they each aim to:

  • Move functionality to software
  • Use commodity servers and switches over proprietary appliances
  • Leverage programmatic application interfaces (APIs)
  • Support more efficient orchestration, virtualization and automation of network services

SDN and NFV Are Better Together

These approaches are mutually beneficial, but are not dependent on one another.  You do not need one to have the other. However, the reality is SDN makes NFV and NV more compelling and visa-versa.  SDN contributes network automation that enables policy-based decisions to orchestrate which network traffic goes where, while NFV focuses on the services, and NV ensures the network’s capabilities align with the virtualized environments they are supporting. The advancement of all these technologies is the key to evolving the network to keep pace with the innovations of all the people and devices its connecting.

How Does ETSI NFV Operate?

The European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) is an independent standardization organization that has been instrumental in developing standards for information and communications technologies (ICT) within Europe. It was created in 1988 as a nonprofit by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administration (CEPT), which has been the coordinating body for European telecommunications and postal organizations since 1959. The not-for-profit organization has more than 700 member organizations representing more than 62 countries around the world.

How the Work of ETSI NFV Gets Done

Most of the work of the Institute is done in committees and working groups made up of experts from member organizations. They tackle technical issues and the development of specifications and standards to support the needs of the broad membership and the European ICT industry at large.

Committees, often referred to as Technical Bodies, typically meet one to six times a year. There are three recognized types of Technical Bodies:

  • Technical Committees – semi-permanent entities within ETSI organized around standardization activities for a specific technology area.
  • ETSI Projects are established based on the needs of a particular market sector and tend to exist for a finite period of time.
  • ETSI Partnership Projects (such as ETSI NFV) are activities within ETSI that require cooperation with other organization to achieve a standardization goal.

Industry Specification Groups (ISG) supplement the work of Technical Bodies to address work needed around a specific technology area. Recently, a group was formed to drive standards for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

Service providers came together and formed an industry specifications group within ETSI called the “Network Functions Virtualization” Group with over 100 members. The Group is focused on addressing the complexity of integrating and deploying new network services within software-defined networking (SDN) and networks that support OpenFlow.

They are working on defining the requirements and architecture for the virtualization of network functions to:

  • Simplify ongoing operations
  • Achieve high performance, portable solutions
  • Support smooth integration with legacy platforms and existing EMS, NMS, OSS, BSS and orchestration systems
  • Enable an efficient migration to new virtualized platforms
  • Maximize network stability and service levels and ensure the appropriate level of resilience

The group is currently working on the standards and will be delivering the first specifications soon.

What is OPNFV?

In September 2014, the Linux Foundation announced another open source reference platform — the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV). OPNFV aims to be a carrier-grade, integrated platform that introduces new products and services to the industry more quickly. OPNFV will work closely with the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI or ETSI NFV) and others to press for consistent implementation of open standards.

The Linux Foundation, the non-profit known for its commitment to an open community, hosted the OpenDaylight Project in April 2013 to advance software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV). The project was created as a community-led and industry-supported open source framework. SDN and NFV together are part of the industry’s transition toward virtualization of networks and applications. With the integration of both, significant changes are expected in the networking environment.

OPNFV will promote an open source network that brings companies together to accelerate innovation, as well as market new technologies as they are developed. OPNFV will bring together service providers, cloud and infrastructure vendors, developers, and customers in order to create an open source platform to speed up development and deployment of NFV.

OPNFV Goals and Objectives

Not only will OPNFV put industry leaders together to hone NFV capabilities, but it will also provide consistency and interoperability. Since many NFV foundational elements already are in use, OPNFV will help with upstream projects to manage continued integration and testing, as well as address any voids in development.

In the initial phase, OPNFV will focus on building NFV infrastructure (NFVI) and Virtualized Infrastructure Management (VIM). Other objectives include:

  • Create an integrated and verified open source platform that can investigate and showcase foundational NFV functionality
  • Provide proactive cooperation of end users to validate OPNFV’s strides to address community needs
  • Form an open environment for NFV products founded on open standards and open source software
  • Contribute and engage in open source projects that will be influenced in the OPNFV reference platform

What is NFV MANO?

Network functions virtualization (NFV) has needed to be managed properly from its early stages. With NFV management and organization (MANO), management of NFV is now addressed by the MANO stream. NFV MANO is a working group (WG) of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute Industry Specification Group (ETSI ISG NFV). It is the ETSI-defined framework for the management and orchestration of all resources in the cloud data center. This includes computing, networking, storage, and virtual machine (VM) resources. The main focus of NFV MANO is to allow flexible on-boarding and sidestep the chaos that can be associated with rapid spin up of network components.

NFV MANO is broken up into three functional blocks:

  • NFV Orchestrator: Responsible for on-boarding of new network services (NS) and virtual network function (VNF) packages; NS lifecycle management; global resource management; validation and authorization of network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVI) resource requests
  • VNF Manager: Oversees lifecycle management of  VNF instances; coordination and adaptation role for configuration and event reporting between NFVI and E/NMS
  • Virtualized Infrastructure Manager (VIM): Controls and manages the NFVI compute, storage, and network resources

For the NFV MANO architecture to work properly and effectively, it must be integrated with open application program interfaces (APIs) in the existing systems. The NFV MANO layer works with templates for standard VNFs, and gives users the power to pick and choose from existing NFVI resources to deploy their platform or element.

At the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting in March 2014, NFV MANO announced a series of adopted interfaces for the MANO architecture, as well as said improvements were continual. An important next step for NFV MANO is to include an software-defined networking (SDN) SDN Controller into the architecture.

Ongoing NFV MANO Work

In September 2014, the Linux Foundation announced another open source reference platform — the Open Platform for NFV Project (OPNFV). OPNFV aims to be a carrier-grade, integrated platform that introduces new products and services to the industry more quickly. OPNFV will work closely with the ETSI and others to press for consistent implementation of open standards.


The European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI), an independent standardization group, has been key in developing standards for information and communications technologies (ICT) in Europe. Created in 1988 as a nonprofit, ETSI was established by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administration (CEPT). With more than 700 member organizations, over 62 counties are represented by ETSI.

The ETSI Industry Specification Group for Network Functions Virtualization (ETSI ISG NFV), a group charged with developing requirements and architecture for virtualization for various functions within telecoms networks. ETSI ISG NFV launched in January 2013 when it brought together seven leading telecoms network operators, including: AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Verizon. These companies were joined by 52 other network operators, telecoms equipment vendors, IT vendors, and technology providers to make up the ETSI ISG NFV. Not long after, the ETSI ISG NFV community grew to over 230 individual companies, including many global service providers.

ETSI ISG NFV exists side by side with the current Technical Organization, but they do have their own membership, which can be comprised of both ETSI and non-ETSI members (under some conditions). ISGs have their own voting rules and approve their own deliverables, as they independently choose their own work program.

Why Do We Need ETSI ISG NFV?

Telecoms networks are made up of an array of proprietary hardware devices. Launching new service often means more devices, which means finding the space and power to accommodate those appliances. However, this has become increasingly difficult. Hardware-based devices now have shorter and shorter life cycles due to rapid innovation, making the return of investment lower and lower when deploying new services, as well as limiting innovation as the industry is driven toward network-centric solutions.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) focuses on addressing these problems. By evolving standard IT virtualization technology, NFV implements network functions into software so that it can run on a range of industry standard server hardware and can easily be moved to various locations within the network as needed. With NFV, the  necessity to install new equipment is eliminated. This results in lower CapEx and OpEx, shorter time-to-market deployment of network services, higher return on investment, more flexibility to scale up or scale down, openness to the virtual device network, as well as more opportunity to test and deploy new services with lower risk.

The ETSI ISG NFV helps by setting requirements and architecture specifications for hardware and software infrastructure needed make sure  virtualized functions are maintained. ETSI ISG NFV also manages guidelines for developing network functions.

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