Networking for Nerds

Defining the Elements of NFV Architectures

Learn what’s involved with building and managing network infrastructure that isn’t tied to physical hardware

Mason Harris
Defining the Elements of NFV Architectures

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in October 2019. It has been updated to include the latest information.

Network functions virtualization (NFV) is a network architecture concept that uses the proven technologies of IT virtualization. It delivers the network services needed to support an infrastructure independent from hardware by decoupling network functions from proprietary hardware appliances. These network services are provided by virtual network functions (VNFs) running on generic hardware.

A basic understanding of the various components of an NFV architecture shows why this approach has gained the attention of enterprises looking for more agile, automated methods to deploy and manage distributed network infrastructure and resources. In addition, an NFV architecture is typically part of an OPEX model, so it can be especially helpful for enterprises looking to reduce their dependence on physical hardware and CAPEX spending. The major components of an NFV architecture include the VNFs, the NFV infrastructure (NFVI) and the NFV management and network orchestration (MANO).

What is network functions virtualization infrastructure (NFVI)?

The NVFI is based on commodity x86 computing hardware and software, including hypervisors, virtual machines (VMs) and virtual infrastructure managers that enable the physical and virtual network layers. It delivers the compute, storage and network infrastructure and the software on which organizations deploy and manage their VNFs. 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, distributed networks without the geographic limitations of traditional network architectures.

What are virtual network functions (VNFs)?

VNFs run in one or more virtual machines on top of the network infrastructure hardware. Examples of VNFs include virtual routers, switches, SD-WAN appliances, firewalls and more. These services are provided by top vendors like Cisco, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks.

With an NFV architecture, VNFs are deployed on demand, eliminating the delays associated with traditional network hardware and removing the need for employees to travel to the deployment site. VNFs also provide the agility needed to anticipate or respond to dynamic network performance or expansion demands in hybrid multicloud environments.

What is NFV management and network orchestration?

NFV management and network orchestration (MANO) is a framework developed by a European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) working group.[1] From initial set up to day-to-day operations, NFV-MANO coordinates resources—the NFVI as well as the VNFs—running in a virtualized data center. This includes the compute, networking, storage and VMs. NFV-MANO uses templates for standard VNFs that allow architects to select and deploy the appropriate NFVI resources.

NFV-MANO is comprised of three functional areas:

  • An NFV Orchestrator handles VNF onboarding, lifecycle management, global resource management, and validation and authorization of NFVI resource requests.
  • A VNF Manager controls the VNF lifecycle. This includes coordinating and adapting the NFVI and performing configuration and event reporting for the element/network management system (EMS/NMS).
  • A virtual infrastructure manager (VIM) controls and manages the compute, storage and network resources in the NFVI.

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

Equinix enables NFV architectures

As a leading global provider of interconnection services and colocation data centers, Equinix recognizes the potential of NFV architectures to transform the way global networks are designed, implemented and managed. Equinix has made significant investments to help enterprises worldwide realize the benefits of NFV:

  • Platform Equinix® provides NFVI resources.
  • Equinix Network Edge offers access to a wide range of VNFs from top vendors, running on a modular infrastructure platform.
  • Equinix Fabric® provides global connectivity, allowing enterprises to deploy VNFs when and where they need them and connect to thousands of cloud, network and SaaS providers worldwide.

Use case: Virtual router solves replication performance problems

A real-life use case shows how easily a global enterprise can deploy VNFs using Equinix Network Edge. In this instance, a global agricultural manufacturer hosts production workloads in the AWS US West cloud region. These workloads provide services to all their global locations. The company also hosts development, test and pre-production Oracle systems in an Oracle Cloud instance located in Phoenix. Unpredictable performance with data replication between AWS and Oracle meant that developers in Phoenix were frequently working with older data. Consequently, the company often had to delay software deployments, negatively impacting its business.

The company remedied this performance problem by deploying a Cisco virtual router in minutes via Equinix Network Edge in an Equinix IBX® data center in Silicon Valley. The router connects to production workloads hosted in AWS US West. Private virtual connections link Silicon Valley with Los Angeles. From there, the company 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 multivendor VNFs. This allows customers to choose from a variety of leading vendors such as Cisco, Juniper Networks and Palo Alto Networks while ensuring the interoperability of these network functions. The Equinix approach to NFV architectures also supports the continuing need for physical deployments, allowing customers to establish connections to cloud and network services using software-defined interconnection from Equinix Fabric.

Enterprises can take the first step toward greater efficiency in designing, deploying and managing their distributed network resources by understanding the key elements of NFV architectures and the global support that Equinix provides to simplify deployment of those resources.

We invite you to start the journey by reading our Network Modernization e-book.


[1] Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV), European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

Subscribe to the Equinix Blog