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September - 2014 - issue > In My Opinion
NFV The Next Frontier for Virtualization
Rajiv Ramaswami
Executive Vice President & General Manager - Infrastructure and Networking Group-Broadcom
Monday, September 1, 2014
Broadcom Corporation is an American fabless semiconductor company in the wireless and broadband communication business. Founded in the year 1991, headquartered at Irvine CA, the firm has a market cap of $23.17 billion.

As telecom providers and network operators move to a carrier cloud architecture, they are looking for cost effective solutions to virtualize workloads on industry standard servers. Virtualization has been established as a proven technology for improving capacity, management and efficiency of server and storage systems in data centers and the next logical step is to deliver virtualization to the network through what is known as Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). The NFV architecture concept is capable of virtualizing entire classes of network node functions into building blocks that may be connected, or chained together to create communication services.

Like server and storage virtualization, NFV gives data center operators the flexibility to relocate network functions from dedicated appliances to industry-standard, high-volume servers, switches and storage. NFV can make networks more agile, cost-effective, scalable and secure, which enables businesses to deploy new services quickly and gain a competitive edge.
NFV delivers agility by programming intelligence into the network via software as needed. Network appliances that can be delivered virtually include firewalls, session border controllers, radio access network nodes and WAN acceleration devices, just to name a few. Virtualization allows the operators to adjust the capacity and other specifications for that equipment, depending on its purpose.NFV provides scalability by allowing operators to dial up or down network capacity as demand changes. This scalability also allows operators to adjust their network architecture across multiple servers - even across multiple data centers anywhere in the world -- in a way they can't do with only physical data center assets.

As with other virtualization environments, NFV provides a cost-effective alternative to the capital cost of hardware for special purpose appliances, running instead on less expensive industry standard hardware, with the intelligence delivered via virtual hypervisors. In addition, operators can further reduce operating expenses by managing the virtual system via software, saving money on electricity and hardware maintenance costs. Space in the data center is also optimized as a result of the reduction in the amount of hardware they use.

Further cost savings and benefits are possible depending on how NFV is implemented; either using a server CPU or an approach that marries a server-class CPU with best-in-class networking. The initial implementation of software only cannot address most networking workloads and its use of IT standard hardware limits the applicability of NFV to just a few applications. The latter approach, a hybrid model of processing and acceleration hardware, not only delivers the power efficiency and improved performance operators and service providers demand, but at a much lower cost.
Of particular strategic importance to the enterprise is the way in which NFV helps companies stay competitive. NFV significantly reduces the time-to-market for deploying innovative new services to customers and try out trial services with lower risk, thus delivering a superior return on investment for those that succeed.

Of growing importance these days is data security and NFV makes that easier, too. For cloud service providers, NFV delivers a robust and easy to operate virtual network, enables faster deployment of critical security upgrades, allowing customers to securely move computing to the cloud. Several cloud service providers have deployed what is known as "zero knowledge" security in which only their customers have the keys to decrypt the stored data.

NFV has frequently been associated with the concept of software-defined networking (SDN), but while complementary, they are unique. SDN simplifies networking by separating the control plane of a network -which makes decisions about where traffic is supposed to go - from the data plane -- the underlying systems that do the forwarding to the selected destinations. NFV is specifically about porting functions of specific network appliances virtually.

The European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), an industry standards body, has established an Industry Specification Group (ISG) for NFV. It is made up of more than 200 global service providers, telecommunications companies and IT companies. The ISG's mission is to develop common industry standards for NFV and SDN technology. Simultaneously, the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) is working to promote the development of SDN and NFV.

Although the NFV market is relatively new, there are early signs that it is on a roll. While many potential customers are just now exploring these technologies, the adoption curve is poised for growth as the benefits of SDN/NFV become more apparent.

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