Introduction to NFV

This is a guest post by Suryanarayana M N V. Having led teams working on Networking protocols, Surya has in-depth knowledge of networking. He has keen interest in the areas of Network Virtualization and NFV.

One of the buzzwords in the networking industry is NFV. In a series of blogs, I plan to share my understanding of NFV, its benefits, some of the products and its relationship with SDN.

What is NFV?

NFV stands for Network Functions Virtualization.

It involves implementation of network functions in a software. This software should be able to run as a VM (Virtual Machine) on an industry-standard server hardware. This capability allows easy instantiation of network function in any required location of the network & its movement across locations without requiring installation of new hardware.

Which network functions are we talking about?

The network operators expressed interest in the following:

  • Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) – Traffic Analysis & Monitoring
  • Firewalls, IPS/IDS, WAN acceleration
  • Mobile Core Network
  • Carrier Grade NAT, router

The vision of NFV can be understood from this diagram:

NFV Vision

NFV Vision

Did you notice the word “Virtual Appliance”? It is the phrase being used for a network function instantiated as a VM to distinguish from the dedicated-hardware-based network function.

The other beauty of it is the consolidation of different hardware types into a standard high volume server i.e., same hardware type is able to provide different network functions based on the software.

When I read about NFV, the first thought I had is that this would come at a cost of throughput. Can a general purpose processor match the rates of dedicated hardware? What are the trade-offs here? I will share my understanding on this in the next blog.