De-mystifying Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) – Part 2
Instead of individually managing racks of physical devices to provision new services, NFV technology decouples the services from the hardware and simulates the network functions of the devices in software running centrally on servers. Within the software-based environment, NFV can quickly build, adapt or evolve network services by using generic, reprogrammable devices in place of purpose-built hardware.
Virtualisation creates a highly flexible and dynamic platform where new network resources can be re-configured and re-deployed at the click of a mouse, eliminating the need to physically move, re-install and test each piece of hardware. Programmed, perhaps remotely, to implement specific network functions, each device can have its operation updated or changed and virtually re-located anywhere in the network, says Colin Evans, Senior director EMEA CoE, Juniper Networks.
Extending the benefits of NFV, software-defined networking (SDN) provides the means to simplify complex networking tasks by leveraging software capabilities to automate and orchestrate key networking functions. Allied to powerful analytics that combine traditional network data with application data in either a real-time or historical format, SDN creates a highly flexible, agile and scalable network infrastructure.
By minimising or eliminating entirely many labour-intensive tasks, the software-defined infrastructure can rapidly detect and adapt to changes in network infrastructure or business priorities. The virtualised environment can then deploy new or modified network services, including cloud-based offerings and other virtualised managed services, more efficiently, more quickly and with less risk.
SDN ticks all the right boxes when it comes to building a rich service environment where network resources can be provisioned, delivered, torn down, reset and managed by software alone. And while NFV has a great many benefits in its own right, when adding SDN’s ability to rapidly create and automate virtual networks with accelerated development and service provisioning, the benefits are multiplied.
A virtualised platform that builds automation throughout the network and which can be tailored to manage service delivery across all environments is especially suited to driving a cloud strategy, whether private, hybrid or public. Highly scalable, secure and ready to adapt to customer needs, cloud-based platforms provide significant agility for service providers operating in an increasingly competitive and ‘cloud first’ marketplace.
In this environment, network services can be provisioned on generic, industry standard hardware, with the cloud provider programming the required functions into the virtual devices to build self-service, customer portals, at ‘cloud-speed’.
Dynamically provisioning network services also has significant benefits for enabling greater innovation while driving down cost and timescales. With application provisioning taking minutes rather than days or even weeks, creating or ‘spinning up’ new applications can be accomplished more easily and quickly and evaluating or trying out new services becomes lower risk, as large scale investment isn’t required.
If the pilot service is successful, the flexible infrastructure can be rapidly scaled up to meet wider demand, otherwise applications can be torn down with network resources re-programmed and re-utilised for the next big idea in the blink of an eye.
By reducing network complexity and aligning infrastructure with business priorities, the software-driven environment has the potential to scale and deploy network functions with an elasticity that significantly strengthens and streamlines operations.
Eliminating the dependency between a network function and the physical hardware also allows providers to achieve an immediate, global presence, enabling them to reach new markets without needing to deploy hard assets at each location. Centralising and automating the intelligence and control of the network also avoids the need to over-provision, with on-demand programming delivering only the functions when and where needed.
Transforming network economics
Driven by the compelling economics that virtualisation makes possible, a software-defined infrastructure provides a new way to design, build and operate networks. Providing a level of flexibility and agility that goes way beyond the capabilities of many physical networks, NFV and its supported technologies enable service providers to create cloud delivery environments quickly, at scale and without complexity.
With infrastructure increasingly becoming a blend of physical hardware and virtual devices, an intelligent network that anticipates and adapts to change can deliver the performance improvements providers need, while aligning investment with actual demand.
NFV therefore represents a major opportunity for helping service providers transform their operations like never before. And by converting the network into a growth engine and strategic asset, it can help level the playing fields to help service, content or application providers meet the next wave of business challenges head on.
The author of this blog is Colin Evans, Senior director EMEA CoE, Juniper Networks.
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