Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) are the two recent buzzwords taking the telecoms market by storm. Every network vendor now has some kind of strategy to use this NFV and SDN to help operators save money. So what exactly is NFV? I found a good simple video by Spirent that explains this well. Here it is:
To add a description to this, I would borrow an explanation and a very good example from Wendy Zajack, Director Product Communications, Alcatel-Lucent in ALU blog:
Let’s take this virtualization concept to a network environment. For me cloud means I can get my stuff where ever I am and on any device – meaning I can pull out my smart phone, my iPad, my computer – and show my mom the latest pictures of her grand kids. I am not limited to only having one type of photo album I put my photos in – and only that. I can also show her both photos and videos together – and am not just limited to showing her the kids in one format and on one device.
Today in a telecom network is a lot of equipment that can only do one thing. These machines are focused on what they are do and they do it really well – this is why telecom providers are considered so ‘trusted.’ Back in the days of landline phones even when the power was out you could always make a call. These machines run alone with dedicated resources. These machines are made by various different vendors and speak various languages or ‘protocols’ to exchange information with each other when necessary. Some don’t even talk at all – they are just set-up and then left to run. So, every day your operator is running a mini United Nations and corralling that to get you to access all of your stuff. But it is a United Nations with a fixed number of seats, and with only a specific nation allowed to occupy a specific seat, with the seat left unused if there was a no-show. That is a lot of underutilized equipment that is tough and expensive to manage. It also has a shelf life of 15 years… while your average store-bought computer is doubling in speed every 18 months.
Virtualizing the network means the ability to run a variety of applications (or functions) on a standard piece of computing equipment, rather than on dedicated, specialized processors and equipment, to drive lower costs (more value), more re-use of the equipment between applications (more sharing), and a greater ability to change what is using the equipment to meet the changing user needs (more responsiveness). This has already started in enterprises as a way to control IT costs and improve the performance and of course way greener.
To give this a sports analogy – imagine if in American football instead of having specialists in all the different positions (QB, LB, RB, etc), you had a bunch of generalists who could play any position – you might only need a 22 or 33 man squad (2 or 3 players for every position) rather than the normal squad of 53. The management of your team would be much simpler as ‘one player fits all’ positions. It is easy to see how this would benefit a service provider – simplifying the procurement and management of the network elements (team) and giving them the ability to do more, with less.
Dimitris Mavrakis from Informa wrote an excellent summary from the IIR SDN and NFV conference in Informa blog here. Its worth reading his article but I want to highlight one section that shows how the operators think deployment would be done:
ETSI has just published first specifications on NFV. Their press release here says:
The ETSI specifications are available at: http://www.etsi.org/technologies-clusters/technologies/nfv
The first document that shows various use cases is embedded below: