Network Function Virtualization or NFV Explained

Network functions have traditionally been delivered using proprietary hardware, where hardware was built for the delivery of that service/function. This purpose-built hardware is designed to meet the performance and service required of a specific function, and would do it very well.

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This model has worked successfully for years, but carries some challenges:

  • The proprietary hardware is very expensive
  • The hardware only fulfills a single function
  • Skills needed to support the hardware are very specialized and incur high maintenance costs
  • Bringing new services on board is very expensive and time consuming

Traditionally with this model, many components have to be maintained, such as firewalls, servers, load balancers, switches, routers, media servers and more. The cost of power consumption alone can be considerable as each device has its own power supply running. There’s now a better way.

NFV is an acronym for Network Function Virtualization, and is a way for service providers to virtualize portions of their infrastructure to eliminate some of the stand-alone equipment normally needed to deliver services to subscribers. NFV offers a new way to design, deploy and manage networking services by disconnecting network functions such as routers, firewalls, load balancers, domain name service (DNS), and other network devices from proprietary hardware so they run in software. NFV will become an increasingly important component for service providers as equipment vendors begin to offer their products as virtual appliances.

The Potential of NFV

NFV enables operators to:

  • Run network functions on general-purpose hardware instead of special-purpose hardware for equipment like CCAP/CMTS
  • Take network functions in and out of service, and scale them up and down easily
  • Reduce system complexity
  • Deploy network functions without having to send engineers to each site
  • Reduce CAPEX: reducing the need  to purchase purpose-built hardware
  • Reduce OPEX: reducing space, power and cooling requirements of equipment
  • Accelerate Time-to-Market: reducing the time to deploy new networking services to support changing business requirements

NFV is giving us new ways to design, build and operate networks. For a more in-depth look at NFV, watch this video interview.