Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

The Virtual Networks Supporting the 'As-a-Service' World

Network design, implementation and management techniques of the past are no longer enough to support current and future network performance requirements.

5 Min Read
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Bill Long is Vice President of Interconnection Services for Equinix.

An increasingly connected world requires networks that are agile, optimized and easily configurable. They need to support the bandwidth and processing needs of an ever-growing range of applications that include voice, data, commerce, media, machine-to-machine, video and the Internet of Things (IoT). The growth of 5G networks will only add to the demands placed on networks to handle the increase in users, locations and devices.

Network design, implementation and management techniques of the past are no longer enough to support current and future network performance requirements. Any enterprise whose livelihood depends on optimized network performance will welcome the “as a Service” approach to the deployment and management of network functions as a complement to their existing network hardware and infrastructure.

The Limitations of Purpose-Built Network Hardware

In the distant past, IT and network infrastructure and management was almost exclusively the responsibility of the business enterprise. IT and communications hardware resided on-premises in data centers. Businesses contracted with communications providers for connections between enterprise data centers and remote offices.

Networks would be implemented, expanded and updated via a hardware procurement cycle. The evaluation, purchase, installation and configuration of routers, firewalls and other purpose-built network appliances often took weeks. In today’s hyper-dynamic network environment, those delays are not always optimal.

Think of it like cable versus streaming. With a cable setup, a tech comes over, connects the line, sets up the box, and programs channels. With a streaming platform, the delay between signup and use is nearly nonexistent. For enterprises that require rapid response, the streaming alternative looks much more appealing.

Virtualization Changed the Deployment Model

With the widespread adoption of cloud computing (private, public and hybrid configurations), responsibility for network infrastructure is now shared among the business enterprise, communications, network and cloud service providers and data centers with global connectivity to counterparties.

The underlying technology of the cloud—virtualization (the method of creating a virtual version of a device or resource to replace purpose-built hardware)—transformed the deployment and management of operating systems, data storage and applications. General purpose hardware, deployed in vast data centers that deliver economies of scale, now supports a vast array of operating systems, storage and applications. Lengthy procurement cycles are eliminated.

Virtualization in cloud computing allows resources and services to be “spun up” in seconds in remote data centers. Virtualization has also greatly reduced IT capital and operational expenses. The benefits of virtualization are now being applied to the design, deployment and management of networks. This technology is delivering a wide range of functions required to control and optimize network performance for the better.  

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) Optimizes Control and Performance

Virtualization allows purpose-built network appliances such as routers, firewalls, VPN, anti-virus and security to be implemented “as a Service” These network virtualization functions run on general purpose server hardware located on-premises, in remote data centers or even “at the edge” of the network. Network virtualizations functions give enterprises an option in how they deploy network services. In many instances, there’s no reason to replace existing network hardware that meets performance requirements.

These functions, in conjunction with software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN), allow private and public networks to work together as virtual networks that can be centrally managed and automated to optimize performance.  

Unlike their hardware appliance predecessors, NFVs can be deployed in minutes. That allows businesses as well as network and cloud service providers to deliver the required network performance in response to changing bandwidth demands, geographic expansion, or the rollout of new applications.

Network Functions Virtualization Delivered 'As a Service' Where and When Needed

The broad global expansion of networks, increased data throughput and processing demands required by 5G and the multitude of new use-cases necessitate greater functional agility throughout the network. Software-defined networks (SDNs) aid in this goal by providing centralized control, coordination and programmability of network functionality.

SDNs allow network functions virtualization to be deployed “as a Service” where and when needed. The number of available virtual network functions continues to grow. A few examples illustrate how they support network agility, scalability and efficiency.  

  • Anticipate predictable changes in demand (business hours, weekdays vs weekends, scheduled high-volume data transactions) automatically deploying additional routers at critical network locations to optimize network traffic. 

  • Deliver secure applications in new geographies without building IT infrastructure. Utilize IT hosting resources of communications, network, or cloud providers to provision firewalls to protect against threats that can lead to network congestion and service outages. 

  • Deploy routers to provide secure optimized connections between local applications running in one cloud provider’s environment and a central database hosted on a different cloud environment. 

  • Place encryption key management services “at the network edge,” to minimize latency for applications, data and users, without the need for hardware security modules (HSM).

For expanding networks, network functions virtualization can offer attractive economic and operational benefits. General purpose server hardware replaces purpose-build network hardware appliances. Rapid, on-demand deployment eliminates long procurement and installation cycles. NFVs can quickly be scaled up or down to meet changing throughput or processing demands. Centralized control and policy management helps reduce errors often associated with manual hardware deployment and configuration.

NFVs Support a Seamless Digitial Experience

As part of a software-defined network, NFVs create intelligent networks that are easier to manage and respond to the widely varying user needs. The fast track to realizing the benefits of NFV and physical hardware coefficiency is through working with companies that provide data centers worldwide, software-defined interconnections to thousands of enterprises, including communications, network and cloud providers and an ecosystem of NFVs. The ability to deploy NFVs at the edge, in metros close to users and key digital supply chain partners, plays a major role in increasing performance and reducing costs.

An integrated NFV and interconnection platform provides the additional benefit of being able to both deploy virtual edge infrastructure and connect your digital supply partners. This reduces time to market, reduces CapEx required to deploy and lowers the technical expertise needed to enable a hybrid multi-cloud edge architecture.

Purpose-built network hardware will continue to play a foundational role in network management. However, the ability to rapidly deploy the appropriate network functions when and where needed is critical in delivering the levels of performance and seamless experience demanded by the people, devices and applications that depend on these critical resources.

Opinions expressed in the article above do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Data Center Knowledge and Informa.

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