What is Network Function Virtualization


Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) abstracts network functions, allowing them to be installed, controlled, and manipulated by software running on standardized compute nodes. NFV incorporates cloud and virtualization technologies to drive rapid development of new network services with elastic scale and automation. These technologies are often grouped as NFV and software-defined networking (SDN).

Problems Network Functions Virtualization Addresses

The desire to automate the orchestration and management of network, storage, and compute resources is a key driver of development for NFV and SDN. Imagine a scenario that includes one physical server with 10 VMs or hundreds of containers. This concept would never scale if manual operations were required. With automation, you can rapidly spin up or destroy virtualized network functions (VNFs) such as VMs, containers, routers, firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems (IPS), to elastically scale your network functions to match dynamic demand.

Quality of Service diagram.

What Can You Do with Network Functions Virtualization?

NFV brings agility in delivering network services with capital efficiency by removing bottlenecks imposed by manual processes, and allowing new services to be deployed on demand. NFV allows service providers to deliver services faster and cost-effectively, and to leverage automation so that they can adapt to customers' needs for scale and agility.

How Does Network Functions Virtualization Work?

The modular architecture of NFV is what allows service providers to automate at every level. Major components of the architecture include:

  • NFV infrastructure (NFVI) building block—Provides the virtualization layer (hypervisors or container management systems such as Docker), and the physical compute, storage, and networking components that host the VNFs. NFVI is managed through the NFVI infrastructure manager (VIM), which controls the allocation of resources for the VNFs. OpenStack is an example of an open source VIM, controlling the physical and virtual resources. VMWare is an example of a commercial VIM.
  • VNFs—Software-based applications that provide one or more network services. VNFs use the virtualized infrastructure provided by the NFVI to connect into the network and provide programmable, scalable network services. VNF Managers support the lifecycle of VNF instances and management of a VNF software.
  • Management and orchestration (MANO)—Provides the overarching management and orchestration of the VNFs in the NFV architecture. MANO instantiates the network services through the automation, provisioning, and coordination of workflows to the VIM and VNF Managers that instantiate the VNFs and overlay networking service chains. MANO connects the NFV architecture with the existing OSS/BSS.