This is a repost of an article from Convergence Asia that I thought would help people understand the difference between NFV and SDN. This article is primarily about NFV. The original post was by Tan Ee Sze.
Creating micro data centres, delivering customer premises equipment (CPE) without the equipment, and spinning out new services in hours instead of days – these are some are some of the use cases that make network functions virtualisation (NFV) an attractive proposition for telcos and cloud service providers.
And this is why, while emerging software-defined networking (SDN) technologies are garnering plenty of media attention these days, it is the more mature NFV that is gaining real traction, said CK Lam, director, Data Centre Fabric and Virtualisation for Asia Pacific, Brocade.
The company last month unveiled an open and modular networking platform – the Brocade Vyatta Platform – that encompasses both NFV and SDN technologies.
NFV is about virtualising network functions and running them off commodity x86 servers, explained Lam. These could include firewalls, routing, load balancing, network address translation (NAT), carrier gateway NAT and content distribution network (CDN) services, amongst others. It enables telcos and service providers to deliver new services to customers and create new revenue streams without having to add new devices to the network. It also eliminates – or at least reduces – the need to stock up on spare equipment and devices and to deploy them should the network run out of capacity.
SDN, on the other hand, is more about managing the internal network within the datacentre. It involves decoupling the control plane which makes decisions about where traffic is sent, and the data plane which forwards traffic to the selected destination. With SDN, the control function is then centralised to manage all the network devices such as switches, routers, as well as virtualised network functions.
While the two have been described as complementary technologies, SDN can be implemented without NFV and vice versa. In fact, in Lam’s view, NFV going to be adopted a lot faster than SDN because there is less complexity involved, and the technologies are more mature.
Telcos and cloud providers readily recognise the benefits the software-based NFV approach, such as lower capex and opex, and quicker time to market with new services, he said. For example, they often have to buy more equipment that they need in anticipation of customer demand. “If something big happens, for example, a DDOS attack takes place, and everyone wants a firewall, but you cannot respond fast enough, you are going to get angry customers. This means you have to buy more hardware than you need, and this results in storage costs,” said Lam. “And if the equipment needs to be deployed, you need to send someone to the site to rack mount it and power it up. That is another big cost for service providers.”
Brocade is currently involved in over 40 NFV proofs of concept with telcos across the world. According to its estimates, adopting the software-based NFV approach will enable service providers and enterprises to reduce the cost of networking by as much as 75 per cent, compared with the traditional hardware-based approach to networking. The savings come from a reduction in up-front capital costs, operational spend, support and sparing (the procurement and storage of spare equipment and devices), and footprint (or real estate costs).
One common use case for NFV is the introduction of virtual customer premises equipment (CPE). CPE generally refers to physical devices such as gateways, routers and switches that are deployed at the customer’s premises to provide access to services from the telco. With NFV, these services can be run on x86 machines at the customer edge, doing away with the need to deploy the devices at the customer site.
Another possible use case is the transformation of mobile base stations into micro data centres so that services can be run nearer to the customer for a better user experience. For example, instead of streaming content all the way from the central office, virtualised content distritbution network services can be run more efficiently from base stations to stream content to the mobile customer.
For service providers, NFV is also attractive because it enables them to respond very quickly to customers’ needs. For example, if one customer were to request for a standard service with firewall and routing, and another customer wants a premium service with firewall, IP Sec and NAT, the different service combinations can be made available very quickly through the software-based NFV approach. In comparison, a hardware-based approach would involve a significant amount of time and cost to install the necessary devices.
“With a hardware-based approach, it could take a week to spin out a service. Now you can do it in two hours. That is why NFV is so attractive and makes so much economical sense to service providers,” said Lam. “They will need new revenue streams, and they have to find ways to build these revenue streams quickly and deliver new services to enterprise customers without incurring a huge impact on their capex and opex.”