Network Function Virtualization (NFV)

The networking industry is about to be introduced to two new networking technologies. The promoters of these new technologies are claiming that they are complementary but they do seem to be at odds.

These technologies are NFV and SDN. I have blogged about Software Defined Networking (SDN) but I have yet to talk about NFV or Network FUnction Virtualization. While I had my head down working on video, players like Intel and AMD have been modifying their hardware to improve on its ability to support virtual machines and route packets. Intel is proposing that it is now possible to create a virtual router or switch that will perform as good, if not better, than the existing network hardware. Being able to create a virtual router has many advantages for service providers in that they can use standard “off the shelf” hardware and will be able to scale the virtual machine to add as many cores, network interfaces and memory as they need.

Intel claims that virtual technology provides redundancy and scalability that is not possible with today’s networking hardware. Service providers are lining up to implement flexible infrastructure that will get them out from under the thumbs of companies like Cisco and Juniper. Cisco and Juniper have been forcing service providers to fork lift upgrade network equipment for some time and the word on the street is that service providers are waiting for an opportunity to strike back.

I see the advantages of NFV, but I don’t see how this is a silver bullet. Networks span real geography and it is unclear whether NFV will scale down to be useful enough for the average Enterprise.

I similarly see the advantage of SDN but it is not obvious that it will scale down either.

I suspect that in the short term we will see a collection of next generation technologies competing for our networking dollars. The technology that provides flexibility at the best price point will be declared the winner, but networks will remain a collection of technologies until customers realize their return on investment or some other business driver makes a change worth while.

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