Networking for Nerds

Defining The Elements of NFV Architectures

Andrea Leonhardt

Network functions virtualization (NFV) is a network architecture concept that uses the proven technologies of IT virtualization. NFV is designed to deliver the network services needed to support an infrastructure totally independent from hardware by decoupling network functions from proprietary purpose-built hardware appliances. The software that provides these network services are known as virtual network functions (VNF) and run on generic hardware.

A basic understanding of the various components of anNFV architecture helps to understand why this approach has gained the attention of enterprises who are looking for more agile and automated methods to deploy and manage widely distributed network infrastructure and resources. The major components of an NFV architecture include the virtualized network functions (VNFs), NFV Infrastructure (NFVI) and NFV management and orchestration (MANO).

Network Functions Virtualization Infrastructure 

The NVFI is based on low cost, standardized x86 computing hardware and software—hypervisors, virtual machines and virtual infrastructure managers that enable the physical and virtual network layers. It delivers the physical resources—compute, storage and network and software on which VNFs are deployed and managed. The NFVI provides the virtualization layer that sits above the hardware and abstracts hardware resources so they can be logically partitioned and provisioned to support VNFs. The NFVI is also critical in building complex, widely distributed networks without the geographic limitations associated with traditional network architectures.

Virtual Network Functions

Virtualized network functions run in one or more virtual machines on top of the hardware networking infrastructure. VNFs include routers, switches, SD-WAN, firewalls and a growing number of other network services now available as software from vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

With a network functions virtualization architecture, VNFs are deployed on-demand, eliminating the deployment delays associated with traditional network hardware, as well as the need for on-site technical skills when remotely deployed. VNFs provide the agility needed to anticipate or respond to dynamic network performance or expansion demands in hybrid and multicloud environments.

NFV Management and Network Orchestration

NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) is a framework developed by a European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) working group. From initial set up to quotidian operations, NFV MANO coordinates resources—the NFVI as well as VNFs—running in a virtualized data center including compute, networking, storage and virtual machines (VM). NFV MANO uses templates for standard VNFs that allow architects to select the appropriate NFVI resources to be deployed.

NFV MANO is comprised of three functional areas:

NFV Orchestrator handles VNF onboarding, lifecycle management, global resource management and validation and authorization of NFVI resource requests.

VNF Manager controls VNF lifecycle management of instances, providing a coordination and adaptation role for NFVI and Element/Network Management Systems configuration and event reporting.

Virtual Infrastructure Manager controls and manages the NFVI compute, storage and network resources.

NFV MANO functionality is provided by established network vendors like Cisco and Juniper, as well as open-source offerings from Cloudify and Open Source MANO.

Equinix Enables NFV Architectures

As a leading, global provider of interconnectivity and colocation centers, Equinix recognizes the potential of NFV architectures in transforming the way that global networks are being designed, implemented and managed. Equinix has made significant investments to enable enterprises worldwide to realize the benefits of network functions virtualization. Platform Equinix provides NFVI resources. Equinix Network Edge orchestrates and manages the deployment of a wide range of VNFs. Equinix Cloud Exchange Fabric™ (ECX Fabric™) provides global connectivity, allowing an enterprise to deploy VNFs as-a-service where needed and connect to thousands of cloud, network and SaaS providers worldwide.

Virtual Router Solves Replication Performance Problems

A real-life use case shows how easily a global enterprise can deploy virtual network functions using Equinix’s Network Edge. In this instance, a global agricultural manufacturer hosts production workloads in AWS US West. These workloads provide services to all their global locations. Development, test and pre production Oracle systems are hosted in an Oracle Cloud in located Phoenix. Unpredictable performance with data replication from AWS to Oracle meant that developers in Phoenix were frequently working with old data. Consequently, software deployments were often delayed, negatively impacting the business.

The performance problem was remedied by deploying a Cisco virtual router in minutes via Network Edge in Equinix’s Silicon Valley data center. The router connects to production workloads hosted on AWS US West. Private virtual connections link Silicon Valley with Los Angeles where they  connected to the Oracle Cloud on ramp to provide access to workloads running in Phoenix. Without implementing any additional physical infrastructure the manufacturer resolved the synchronization performance issues with a secure, private connection between their AWS and Oracle workloads.

Equinix Eliminates the Complexity of Building NFV Architectures

NFV architectures allow enterprises to overcome the limitations of legacy network infrastructures. Virtualization decouples functionality from the underlying hardware to provide agile, on-demand deployment of network services. Management and orchestration layers efficiently handle the provisioning of the underlying physical and virtual infrastructure resources.

Equinix has eliminated the complexity of building the NFVI and onboarding multi-vendor VNFs. This allows customers to choose from a variety of leading vendors such as Cisco, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks and ensures the interoperability of these network functions. Equinix’s approach to NFV architectures also supports the continuing need for physical deployments, allowing customers to establish connections to cloud and network services using a global software-defined interconnection, ECX Fabric™.

Enterprises can take the first steps toward greater efficiency in designing, deploying and managing their widely distributed network resources by understanding the key elements of NFV architectures and the global resources that Equinix provides.

We invite you to start the journey by watching the Modernize Your Network, Virtually with Network Edge webinar.

Andrea Leonhardt
Andrea Leonhardt Senior Manager, Product Marketing