Network functions such as firewalls and routers have traditionally been packaged as bespoke hardware appliances. But the scale of global investment in data centre technology is making it increasingly viable to deploy network functions as software that runs on industry-standard hardware. With NFV, the vendor of the Virtual Network Function may be different from the vendor of the servers and a single server can implement multiple network functions, from multiple vendors simultaneously.
NFV should not be confused with virtual networks such as virtual local area networks (VLANs) or virtual private networks (VPNs) – the two concepts are mutually independent. A virtual network connects together some of the nodes of a bigger physical network. This shares the cost of a large physical network to create multiple separate customer networks. In contrast, NFV is about the functions of the nodes of a network being implemented as software on generic hardware, rather than as bespoke hardware.
What are the benefits of NFV?
There are many significant benefits of NFV, including:
- Virtualisation of network functions cuts time-to-market enabling rapid deployment of innovative new services.
- Lead times of months or days to take delivery of equipment are reduced to download and install times of minutes or seconds. It is also easier to tailor services to target the needs of specific customers.
- Network operations are greatly simplified because software can be dynamically moved to various locations in the network as required, without the need for installation of new equipment.
- Bespoke appliances can eventually be replaced by equivalent software, and virtualised functions can be managed in common with IT management processes, with remote software installations decoupled from hardware upgrades.
- Consolidation of multiple network functions running on industry-standard servers should achieve significant energy and carbon reduction.
BT - A leader in NFV
BT has led the industry in researching the technical and operational benefits of NFV since mid-2011, including building several Proof-of-Concepts with our industrial partners to test the performance of NFV technology and validate the business benefits. We were the first network operator to publish our results. We initiated and managed the joint-carrier white paper calling for industry collaboration on NFV which was published in October 2012. This document is widely regarded as the seminal document heralding this new direction for networks.
We initiated and co-founded the ETSI NFV Industry Specification Group (NFV ISG) and are actively participating and steering its activities as chair of the network operator council. This forum has grown to over 160 companies including 28 service providers. An important objective for the NFV ISG is to encourage development of an open ecosystem and to stimulate product innovation. The first results were published in October 2013, including a global call for industry to create public proof of concept demonstrations. BT led creation of the second joint-carrier white paper on NFV published in October 2013 and signed by 25 carriers to put these documents into context and to provide operator perspectives on NFV progress.
BT is working with our industrial partners to create new opportunities based on NFV-based networks and services solutions.
Given BT’s expertise in networking, cloud computing and data centre infrastructure management, we are well positioned to maximise the opportunity and benefits brought about by NFV, and thus deliver services for customers in an increasingly agile and flexible way.
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