Network Hardware vs. NFV Deployment: How to Decide

Stefan Raab

Digital transformation initiatives are driving the adoption of internet, cloud, mobile and IoT technologies. In order to meet user expectations for scale and performance, IT organizations are adopting distributed computing models.. IT systems are no longer restricted to processing corporate data at corporate sites, they’re used to engage with employees, customers, partners and IoT devices in highly distributed geographic environments and performance standard set by consumer cloud applications.  The rollout of 5G networks brings a new wave of innovative mobile applications making ever greater demands on networks and data centers to support these services.

To support these needs, applications, data and processing power need to reside in the cloud as well as “at the edge.” Gartner defines edge computing as “Part of a distributed computing topology in which information processing is located close to the edge — where things and people produce or consume that information.” [i]

As enterprises adopt distributed computing architectures, they need to determine what to deploy where to support the expected workloads, manage data volumes, accommodate bandwidth, minimize latency and ensure end to end security.

But what guidelines should network architects follow to determine where and when resources should be deployed at the edge? Gartner recommends 5 criteria to guide the enterprise edge computing strategy.

  •       Data volume/bandwidth considerations
  •       Need for limited autonomy or disconnected operation
  •       Privacy and security concerns
  •       A requirement for local interactivity
  •       Impact of latency on an application

The greater the need to meet each of these criteria, the stronger the case for deploying resources at the edge. In addition to the compute and storage resources required to support edge computing, network services play a vital role in optimizing edge performance and security.

Network architects have two options in deploying network services—network hardware and network functions virtualization (NFV). Time, topology and technical talent influence the deployment decision.

When Network Hardware Deployment Makes Sense

For years network hardware devices—routers, firewalls, security appliances, and switches were installed and configured in the corporate data center and branch offices. Protracted procurement cycles are typically not a hinderance with long planning horizons and IT staff located on-premises. With years of experience in implementing these devices, the process can run smoothly.

  • The hardware device approach to deploying network services in distributed computing environments makes sense when:
  • Large sites with high (10Gbps+) bandwidth requirements and complex service configurations.
  • There is ample time for procurement, implementation and configuration in support of expanding to new locations and/or delivering new services.
  • The enterprise wants to maximize ROI on existing hardware and can easily deploy devices in new corporate data centers or branches.
  • IT has standardized on specific network hardware devices or brands.
  • Well-established in-house technical skills and experience favor continued usage of hardware devices.

For some enterprises, current network topology, existing IT skills and ample project timelines make network hardware deployment the sensible choice for augmenting or expanding network functionality.

When NFV Deployment Makes Sense

Virtualization technologies that have enabled the growth of cloud computing are now being widely employed to make the functionality of network hardware devices available as a software service. Following the on-demand model of cloud services, with network functions virtualization (NFV)  deployment an enterprise can implement these services in minutes, not months. Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) such as routers, firewalls and VPN terminators run on high-performance commodity servers and are the ideal solution when an enterprise has time-sensitive and cost-efficient requirements to implement network services, as in these use cases:

  • Quickly establish a presence in new markets or expand geographic footprint.
  • Rapidly add or complement existing physical IT resources via virtual services to improve network performance or security.
  • Deploy network services to support new applications without making major hardware investments.
  • Provide network services in proximity to both cloud providers and end users to support “at the edge” use cases such as IoT, machine learning and 5G networks.
  • Reduce network infrastructure CAPEX budgets and physical network hardware.

NFV deployment enables an enterprise to easily implement services where and when needed and is particularly efficient in meeting many of the distributed and edge computing requirements. Within minutes an enterprise can deploy network virtual functions that:

  • Provide secure routing between different cloud environments, one where a customer database resides and the other, where a new application is being launched to service new markets.
  • Protect resources on a corporate network from intrusion via public facing applications hosted in the cloud with a firewall.
  • Connect remote branch offices to multiple cloud providers via an SD-WAN deployed in a colocation data center.

NFV is quickly redefining how network services are deployed and managed. IT allows IT organizations to quickly implement services in support of delivering new applications to new geographies, improve the performance and security of widely distributed computing resources and support the highly distributed edge computing needs of a rapidly growing number of devices and applications.

NFV Deployment Via Equinix Network Edge

Equinix answers the growing demand for NFV deployment with Network Edge, a broad suite of vendor-neutral, virtual network services. With Network Edge, customers can select, configure and deploy virtual network services from vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks. Network Edge is integrated with Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric enabling customers to deploy virtual network services and interconnect them to clouds and network providers located worldwide.

By deploying seamless, ultra-low latency virtual network services closer to end users, clouds and partner ecosystems, Network Edge can cost-effectively improve network performance and security.

Investigate the capabilities and benefits of NFV appliances offered by Equinix in greater depth by visiting

[i] “The Edge Completes the Cloud,” Gartner Report, September, 2018.