Defining Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and its Benefits

December 19, 2017

In the past, network functions such as routing, intrusion prevention, and intrusion detection were carried out by specially designed hardware appliances, each designed to run proprietary software specific to a single purpose. While these appliances did their job remarkably well, they presented a barrier to agility that today’s businesses simply cannot afford to maintain.

By taking these functions virtual, these barriers have been addressed. The enterprise can save on hardware, new functions can be added quickly and easily, and installation and time-to-deploy are considerably shortened. This enables a new cloud-powered dexterity that heralds the end of the line for hardware-based network functions.

So, what is NFV?

Broadly, network function virtualization is exactly what it sounds like: a set of network functions that have been virtualized. Virtualized functions are comprised of network infrastructure components that perform very specific behaviors such as routing, intrusion detection or prevention – each of which once required a dedicated hardware appliance to accomplish its task. In the past, these instances would need to be manually installed into the network, creating a barrier to expedient deployment and stirring up a slew of operational challenges in its wake.

Today, the movement is toward standardization of the NFV framework so that it can run independently of any specific hardware appliances. Whether delivered by telecom vendors or through open-source instances, the development of a set of standards for NFV will enable faster time-to-service and will simplify the subscriber experience considerably.

At the end of 2017, we are fast approaching this benchmark. Universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) provides a platform from which to deliver the benefits of both virtualized and hardware components from multiple vendors, all of which can now be managed from a single, cloud-based user interface.

Benefits of NFV

The benefits of NFV in telecom are much the same as the benefits we derive from the cloud transformation of just about any business application:

1. It is more economical

With no further need to invest in costly hardware solutions that will inevitably break down, need to be updated or upgraded, and will eventually become obsolete, businesses can channel what they would have spent on hardware appliances back into their business. Hundreds of IT hours can also be spared, as NFV eliminates time spent on hardware maintenance. The cost of maintaining these services on the network is greatly reduced as well, reflecting positively in opex metrics.

2. It is more efficient

Efficiency is a key selling point for NFV. There is no longer a need to purchase and install dedicated hardware for each network function, and the time to deploy is slashed to a tiny fraction of what it once was – in fact, in many cases, a new feature can be pushed out company-wide (or network-wide if we’re talking about telecom subscribers) globally and almost instantly. This improves customer satisfaction and allows high-paid IT personnel to rededicate their time to higher-value tasks.

3. Agility

New services and features can be deployed as soon as they are available. Scaling up or down is enabled, and since the network function is no longer dependent on hardware it reduces the reliance on local or regional infrastructure to support it. This means that as new features and functions become available, they can be pushed out to users without the need to modify or install any physical equipment. This drives the subscriber cost down as well, making next-gen features more accessible to all. Feature evaluation is simplified too, as new features can be deployed and tested within a controlled environment before being pushed out to subscribers – much like how we download apps on our personal devices.

4. Security

Network security continues to be a major concern for many service providers. Maintaining a high level of network protection is a key function of NFV, as it provides the ability to protect the network in a broad sense while still enabling local network security features such as firewalls and VPNs.

5. Scalability

If you were using hardware appliances to run your network functions, the movement to scale could not and would not be accomplished quickly or economically. More hardware would need to be purchased, configured, and tested before scale could be realized. In an NFV environment, launching new virtual network functions can be automated, allowing service providers to scale up or down according to their customer’s needs.

Universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) enables NFV

For hosted service providers, uCPE should be of great interest as it provides a platform from which virtual network functions (VNFs) can be deployed, deleted, or modified across one or multiple networks.

AudioCodes offers a uCPE solution that is based on its Mediant 800B platform, integrating SBC and routing capabilities and allowing managed UC providers to deliver premium features and services through a wide range of 3rd party wide-area network (WAN) interfaces and enabling an NFV architecture. The Mediant 800B uCPE platform effectively replaces multiple CPEs and is highly compatible with open-source and 3rd party NFV iterations, combining session border control, routing, and VoIPerfect technology to ensure high-quality voice communication as well as efficient and secure operations from end to end.

Want to learn more? Call CCG Telecom today

CCG Telecom is an AudioCodes Elite Channel/Systems Integration partner, supporting the VoIP and UC needs of enterprise nationwide. Call today to find out how CCG and AudioCodes can help your business transform to a high-value NFV environment.