Why Network Functions Virtualization Should be Part of Your Infrastructure Strategy

Since the dawn of the computer age, two prominent technical trends have remained constant: the replacement of physical functionality with digital functionality and the decentralization of computing resources that put processing power at the edge. History is replete with examples of digital replacing the physical, such as the following:

  • Streaming video versus going to a store to rent a movie.
  • Digital cameras replacing photographic film.
  • Wikipedia replacing paperbound sets of encyclopedias.

Examples of the decentralization of processing power include the following:

  • Worldwide cloud service providers replacing the need for hardware in on-premises data centers.
  • Handheld devices that contain more processing power and global connectivity than a mainframe computer of twenty years ago.

Networking delivers services where needed

Networking has played a critical role in digital transformation, evolving from now-primitive centralized connections to today’s distributed software-defined networks (SDN). Software-defined networking, an approach to cloud computing, simplifies network management and configuration through programming to improve network performance and monitoring.

The internet facilitates near-ubiquitous connections, and cloud service providers assume an ever-greater portion of functions previously provided in on-premises data centers. However, when expanding their network infrastructure or providing new services in a distributed environment, enterprises are often delayed by the need to deploy specialized networking hardware and the CapEx price tag that comes with it.

With a centralized networking model, hardware provisioning is relatively easy—procure, install and configure the hardware in the data center and possibly in two or three remote locations. With the distributed model that now characterizes IT infrastructure provided by the cloud, however, the logistics of this procure-install-configure physical hardware become prohibitive, especially for global operations, when used for a dozen or more remote locations.

The benefits of virtualization

We’ve become accustomed to the benefits of virtualization offered by cloud service providers. Virtualization can separate software functionality from the specific appliance-type hardware in which it runs. Virtualization allows you to quickly spin up processors, storage and applications to manage demand without concern for the actual hardware. Applying this concept to network hardware, network functions virtualization (NFV) software replicates network appliance functions in low-cost commodity servers—yet another example of digital replacing physical. Let’s consider a specific use case of the network functions virtualization model.

Network functions virtualization for routers

Routers are a critical component of network infrastructure. An enterprise wanting to expand their network and optimize communications will purchase, install and connect routers where needed across their network. The time required for this could take weeks, depending upon the efficiency of the deployment process, the number of locations and the cloud environments involved.

With NFV, physical routers are replaced by virtual devices such as the Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V. These virtual devices can be made available on-demand from a communications, network or data center provider.

A practical use case would be routing between public clouds. As a result of the different services or geographies covered by various cloud providers, most enterprises today require services from multiple cloud providers. It’s not unusual to have an application that runs in the AWS cloud needing to access a database that resides in the Oracle Cloud. To establish a secure, private connection between different cloud providers, a router needs to sit between the two cloud environments.

In this example, the fastest way to establish the connection is by provisioning a virtual router—Cisco Cloud Services Router 1000V—in an SDN environment. All you’ll need is a software license, a commodity server and a way to connect to your cloud services. Compared to the procurement process of network hardware, which will likely take weeks, the virtual deployment model process takes only minutes.

Growth of network functions virtualization

Similar services such as next-gen firewalls and WAN load balancers could also be deployed this way. A virtual firewall function could be deployed at the network edge to ensure suspicious traffic is stopped before it reaches the organization’s clouds, users or on-premises IT.

We foresee the development of a wide range of virtual devices for network optimization, security, management and monitoring to address many of the concerns enterprises wrestle with when expanding and managing distributed IT infrastructures.

The potential hazards of adopting the NFV approach

The adoption of virtualized networking is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every enterprise. Those unwilling to surrender their legacy networks are likely to find the transition untenable, if not impossible. Managing IT in a virtual environment is an entirely different beast from managing it in the traditional physical sense; established practices may have to be adjusted enterprise-wide to cope with disruptions to operations. Implementing and managing an NFV approach will require a learning curve, which makes it best suited for enterprises willing to be flexible.

NFV complements SDN  

As there’s no need to acquire and provision hardware, the combination of software-defined networks and network functions virtualization accelerates implementation and reduces capital expenditures. Services provided are vendor-neutral, so there’s no need to worry about compatibility with existing network equipment. Services can be located proximate to data, applications, clouds and users for ultra-low latency and optimum processing.

SDN meets NFV in Platform Equinix

The vision for Platform Equinix is to provide an environment to integrate and interconnect branded virtual devices, such as Cisco, with our software-defined interconnection, ECX Fabric. This global infrastructure enables enterprises to accelerate time-to-market for new products and services and to reach new markets worldwide. By capitalizing on the flexibility and agility of SDN and NFV, virtual devices can easily and quickly be provisioned across distributed enterprises to deliver the level of connectivity and performance required by digital consumers.

To learn more about how your enterprise can benefit from Platform Equinix and Virtualized Networking, visit https://eqix.it/nfv.

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