Network Function Virtualization (NFV) 101

When I first heard about NFV, I thought it was just another steaming pile of hype designed to push the appliance vendors to offer their solutions in VM format. After all, we’re past the hard technical challenges: most appliances deserve to have an Intel Inside sticker, performance problems have been addressed (see Intel DPDK, 6WIND, PF_ring and Snabb Switch), so what’s stopping us from deploying NFV apart from stubborn vendors who want to sell hardware, not licenses?

As I explained in the Network Function Virtualization part of my SDN, OpenFlow and NFV for the Skeptics webinar, things are never as simple as they look:

  • It’s pretty easy to offer existing appliances in VM format. Most load balancer and firewall vendors got the message, and some of the software-only solutions have impressive performance.
  • Building a cloud environment that will allow you to deploy these appliances on demand is a no-brainer. If you’re new to this game, buy a solution from VMware or Microsoft, if you have more experience, build your own open-source solution with OpenStack or CloudStack (like most service providers are doing).
  • The real problem is the orchestration: mapping new service request into VMs that have to be spun up, provisioning and configuration of those VMs, and service integration (inserting service VMs into the forwarding path).

As always, you could hack together your own solution to solve these challenges or engage a vendor offering an extensible service provisioning framework. If you read my posts on Tail-f’s NCS, you probably already know what many NFV pilots use as their orchestration solution.

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