Virtualization—the creation of a simulation with functionality identical to that of the original physical object—has dramatically and positively altered the provisioning, management and economics of IT infrastructure. Virtualization removes the need for software to run on purpose-built appliance-type hardware and enables software services to be delivered via commodity server hardware. Two of the major benefits are significantly faster deployment of services and lower costs of hardware.
Virtualization is now being applied to an increasing range of networking hardware. The functionality of purpose-built network hardware like routers, switches and firewalls is being replaced by network functions virtualization (NFV) architectures that run on commodity servers. In addition to deployment and economic benefits, NFV offers the following advantages:
- Simplified, centralized management of widely distributed network functions
- Automated provisioning and updates of network services
- Ease of ability to dynamically add, remove or connect endpoint groups
- Ability to quickly test new business solutions to accelerate product launch
These improvements in the way network functions are deployed and managed are especially relevant to businesses with global operations, interconnectivity among multiple cloud providers, and the need to provide network functions at the edge.
Connectivity and security are prime use-cases for network functions virtualization. Globally-deployed IT resources and the increasing incidence of data breaches drive the need to provide network functions where needed without the delays involved with procuring and installing network hardware. A few examples illustrate the types of network functions that can easily be deployed:
- Routers for cloud-to-cloud connectivity (applications running on one cloud provider and data residing with another cloud provider are common); co-location connectivity within a data center to manage applications and data.
- SD-WAN optimization to direct data flows and optimize performance over multiple WANs at branch offices or data centers.
- Encryption key management deployed without the need for a physical hardware security module (HSM); providing encryption proximate to applications, data and users to minimize latency.
- Firewalls deployed at the edge of the network to ensure suspicious traffic is stopped before it can access the enterprise’s clouds, applications, data, users or on-premises IT resources.
Virtualized networks are more easily configured and modified to provide a wide variety of services in response to processing demands, organizational growth or geographic expansion. NFV networks clearly provide compelling benefits. Before you replace network hardware with software, however, there are a few considerations.
When is Network Functions Virtualization preferable to physical network hardware?
When does it make sense to replace purpose-built network hardware with virtualized network functions? Ultimately, it’s an economic decision, but there are many factors that influence your decision. We pose a few questions to help you determine when NFV solutions are appropriate, and when you may wish to stay the course with your current networking appliances.
Network hardware lifecycle
Digital technologies seem to have an increasingly shorter lifecycle, with greater functionality being delivered at lower cost with every new release. IT organizations have experienced decades of hardware refresh cycles. However, virtualization changes the nature of those cycles, forever eliminating the hardware selection, procurement and installation steps and resulting in immediate CapEx savings.
- Which network appliances are nearing end-of-life, and what NFV solutions are available to replace them?
- How many network appliances are candidates for replacement, and what are the total costs for replacing them with new appliances?
- Do NFV solutions provide equal or superior functionality in comparison to the network appliances currently installed?
- Do NFV solutions offer significantly lower lifetime CapEx and OpEx in comparison to the network appliances currently installed?
The logistics of managing widely-distributed network hardware appliances can often be time-consuming and cumbersome. The ability to add, remove or update hardware requires on-premises technical support. Remote, centralized management of NFV services provided by virtualization eliminates the need to be on-site and results in lower operational costs.
- How do the locations of network appliances factor in the cost of installation, configuration, management and replacement?
- Would replacement of numerous widely-distributed network appliances with NFV solutions result in lower short- and long-term operational costs?
- Are you expanding services to new markets or geographies and want to accelerate implementation?
NFV solutions availability
There’s no reason to implement NFV solutions unless they provide equal or better performance and lower operational costs in comparison to your current network appliances. Selection, availability and deployment environment also play a major role in deciding to implement an NFV network strategy. When looking for NFV solutions, consider the following:
- What NFV solutions are available from your communications, cloud or network provider?
- What is the provider’s long-term strategy for developing or making available a wider range of virtualized network functions?
- Does the provider offer an environment to deploy the NFV solutions where you need them?
NFV networks are the future
NFV uses standard IT virtualization technology to consolidate an increasing number of network hardware functions to reduce cost and improve maintainability. When hardware end-of-life, remote location management or inferior functionality of existing network appliances negatively contrast with the operational and economic benefits of NFV solutions, network hardware replacements are in order. As providers make a wider range of network solutions available, NFV will quickly become the preferred means of implementing network functions whenever and wherever needed.
Equinix has a vision to provide NFV solutions integrated directly to our ecosystems of cloud providers, network providers and enterprises. Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric running on Platform Equinix directly, securely and dynamically connects distributed infrastructure and digital ecosystems via global, software-defined interconnections.
Get ahead of the curve and learn more about the capabilities and benefits of network functions virtualization by visiting https://eqix.it/nfv.