As the movement to virtualize and automate applications and services for faster deployments and cost savings gains momentum, network function virtualization (NFV) has become an important technology to watch. In advance of his presentation recently at the NFV World Congress, “Getting the Stars to Align,” Ron Haberman, vice president of Nokia’s CloudBand Business Unit, sat down for a Q&A with IT Innovators to discuss NFV and how it impacts IT professionals.
What is the promise of NFV?
NFV is changing the paradigm on the way network services are created. It has been, and continues to be, an evolutionary process with many piece parts in the mix. That means we’re right now in a bit of a chaotic environment. We have standards bodies defining the architecture, open source organizations creating software, multiple ecosystems building specific VNFs to work with different technologies, along with different vendors creating virtual network functions (VNFs)—all separate from each other. Now, the focus is on bringing those parts together and lining them up to provide end-to-end solutions that can be deployed. To do that, the industry needs to shift from creating technology to enabling specific use cases.
How is this promise realized?
In my view, it’s primarily about focusing on specific use cases and growing them into full-blown systems as opposed to going about it the other way around. There are megatrends around what is happening in the Internet of Things (IoT) and the move to 5G; the talk is to try to create some alignment between all of the activities, the megatrends and how they correlate.
What use cases would you prioritize?
Today we’re looking primarily at Voice over LTE (VoLTE), security services, service chaining and virtualized customer premise equipment (vCPE), which is an instance of software running in the cloud that effectively creates the IP connectivity for a particular branch in an enterprise to connect to a VPN, firewall, Internet or other services.
What is the link between NFV and the software-defined data center (SDDC)?
Moving a function to the cloud in a SDDC, being able to launch it on demand and scale it dynamically as necessary, requires a lot of factors to be in place. You need to have an appropriate data center based on proximity, ownership, capacity, and other factors. So as we talk about NFV, we look at a segment of the generic cloud type of deployments that add feature needs in the different layers, whether it’s the data center itself, the orchestration or the VNF management.
Is virtualization a stepping stone in the transition to SDDC?
Yes. The ability to virtualize the type of communication you have in the enterprise—whether voice, data, text messaging, or text collaboration in groups—is just one example we see more and more in the market. Another example is the creation of private access point names (APNs) as an extension of the mobile network such that mobile devices that are part of a particular enterprise can access the network into its own instance.
What innovations in NFV will have the most impact on the industry?
At a very high level, the goal of NFV is to automate and create as much agility in the ability to deploy services as possible. The normal model of bringing an application, or VNF, and upgrading it in a network to provide it to the enterprise customer base, has been measured in months, sometimes even many months. What NFV brings to the table is, first and foremost, uniformity of the hardware. With the cloud, you have a resource that you can use for pretty much any application you bring. Furthermore, the automation coming from the orchestration software is such that you can actually shorten the length of time to deploy a particular VNF and test it automatically. The result is that you can now connect it to an enterprise in just a matter of seconds.
What does this innovation mean to IT professionals?
Their ability to get a service attached to their virtual private network (VPN) today will happen much, much faster. Instead of waiting for service providers to add that over time, it will be available faster. And the management, the expansion of an instance, for example, will be automated and in their control. They won’t need to wait for service providers to deploy more appliances because it’s available in the cloud.
Can IT professionals influence the adoption of NFV?
I think that IT professionals are actually driving the use cases quite a bit. They can influence which type of VNF is prioritized and, with that, the type of use cases that service providers would care to deploy. The more of those use cases and software they identify and discuss with their service providers, the more likely it will be that those use cases and software actually make it into these networks in the short term.
How does this collaboration take place?
It takes place via discussions and presentations in environments like this conference. We normally don’t see even large enterprises present their needs. I think that presenting and participating at industry events, particularly the OpenStack Summit, would go a long way in helping define those needs. Working with vendors like us would be very beneficial to help connect the dots.
Christy Peters is a writer and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a BS in journalism and her work covers a variety of technologies including semiconductors, search engines, consumer electronics, test and measurement, and IT software and services. If you have a story you would like profiled, please contact her at [email protected]
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