Making It Connect: Virtual Network Functions and Corporate Networks

Brooke Mouland
Making It Connect: Virtual Network Functions and Corporate Networks

Virtualization is transforming the traditional boundaries between hardware and software. The result is a rethinking of the way IT infrastructure and services are designed, deployed and managed. This blog post is the first in our series Making It Connect, which examines the changes that virtualization is bringing to network architectures, with a specific focus on virtual network functions and the flexibility they provide in establishing and managing network connections.

Virtual network functions (VNF)—software that runs on high-performance servers and performs the functions of purpose-built network devices like firewalls, load balancers, routers and SD-WAN—are transforming how networks are designed, implemented and managed. Among the myriad uses, virtual network functions allow architects to: 

  • Deploy services to various network locations rapidly without the need to install new equipment.
  • Scale up or down quickly to meet changing workload demands.
  • Establish a local or regional presence easily without the need of infrastructure to support that presence.
  • Provide temporary connectivity between on-premises data sources and new cloud applications when conducting proofs of concept.

The benefits of virtual network functions can also be applied to leverage IT resources and applications that are accessible via network service providers (NSP). A virtual function integrated with an existing MPLS network helps “normalize” the function with the rest of the business’s global network deployment. In many instances, virtual network functions can complement existing on-premises network hardware.

Connecting VNFs to Corporate Networks

Establishing the connection between a virtual network function and an NSP is significantly easier when deployed through a global interconnection provider like Equinix. Equinix is home to an extensive ecosystem of network, cloud, financial service, content and entertainment providers.

Businesses select their choice of virtual network services—routers, firewalls and SD-WAN—and via the Equinix Network Edge service quickly connect to their network service provider. There are multiple ways to integrate these VNFs into a corporate network. Using our theme of “making it connect,” here are two example scenarios of how companies can take advantage of Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™).

Connect to an NSP That Is Already Part of the ECX Fabric Ecosystem

Network service providers, such as Verizon, have built software-defined interconnected services to help their customers connect to their services from Equinix colocation data centers. A business can select the appropriate virtual function via Network Edge and establish a virtual connection to the Verizon network in a matter of minutes.

Caption: NSP on ECX with a service that they have published, like Verizon.

Connect to an NSP Colocated at Equinix

In this scenario, a business has physical deployments colocated in an Equinix data center. The physical router in the customer cage has a port on ECX Fabric and a defined service profile (which describes how Equinix customers connect to a service) to connect the virtual router to it. The physical router in the customer cage connects to the virtual router via the ECX Fabric switchport at the “edge” of the customer’s space. This virtual cross connect can link any two locations on ECX Fabric—either local or remote.

For example, a business with a physical presence in Equinix’s Atlanta colocation center and connectivity to multiple 10 gigabit circuits from their NSP wants to stand up a virtual device in the Equinix Dallas data center in preparation for market expansion. Rather than requesting a connection from yet another NSP to connect Dallas, the business deploys the virtual device in Dallas using Network Edge, and uses ECX Fabric to provide the Dallas-Atlanta connection. The business now has a far simpler and faster implementation, extending the capabilities of its existing network resources without arranging an additional connection directly with an NSP.

Caption: When a customer has a cage or colo facility somewhere, and they have their network service cross connected into that cage. They then get an ECX connection from their Network Edge device to a port they have in their cage.

The Goodness of Leveraging NSP Connections with Virtual Network Functions

Business expansion into new markets via network service providers can be a protracted process involving paperwork, provisioning and configuring the physical connection from the NSP to the organization’s data center(s). Virtual network functions facilitate a faster, more flexible means of extending the capabilities of existing resources that are accessible via network service providers in the following ways:

  • Eliminate delays associated with provisioning physical network devices and cross-connecting cables.
  • Provide on-demand, preprovisioned, high-speed global connectivity to an extensive set of network, cloud and business ecosystem providers.
  • Easily extend existing MPLS networks to additional markets.
  • Build hybrid solutions by combining the reach of network providers like Verizon and global interconnectivity providers like Equinix.
  • Centrally manage network services via software-defined networks and virtual network functions.
  • Augment existing network deployments when presence is needed in certain geographies, deployment speed and convenience are paramount or a high-performance aggregation point is needed at the cloud edge.

Use Network Edge VNFs to Leverage NSP Services

Virtualization continues to transform the IT industry. The past 10+ years have proven the value of the cloud computing model. Virtual network functions are transforming the deployment and management of network services. Equinix’s goal is to make it virtually effortless for businesses to connect VNFs to reach network service providers.

Equinix’s behind-the-scenes work hides the technical and programmatic aspects of integrating hundreds of partner services. Equinix continues to expand its ecosystem of partners, working closely with network service providers to virtualize their services, making it easy to connect to NSP services via Network Edge.

In future Making It Connect blogs, we’ll explore a wide range of Equinix global connection options and other services like ECX Fabric that facilitate efficient, cost-effective network management. In the meantime, we invite you to learn more about the capabilities of Network Edge and the ability to leverage NSP connections by starting a free trial today.


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