Network Functions Virtualization Will Transform Networking, but Not Overnight

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

How NFV Is Linking People and Machines

Network functions virtualization (NFV), along with software-defined networks (SDNs), is part of an ambitious attempt to deeply reimagine and reinvent the network. The end goal is to allow networking capabilities and the functions that ride atop them to be changed on a fluid, totally software basis.

Though it appears that the age of NFV is upon us, experts suggest that much work remains to be done. Earlier this month, Dell’Oro Group released a report that said, simply, that the discussion of NFV has transitioned from the “if” to the “when” stage. Shin Umeda, a company vice president and the author of the report, said that there are signs that “very large projects” based on NFV implementations will begin to ramp up during the next year.

It will be interesting to see how these projects roll out. Caroline Chappell, Heavy Reading’s principal analyst for cloud and NFV, suggests that the road may be a long one. She writes that a gradual, step-by-step approach is best when trying to learn how to run virtual network functions on NFV infrastructures:

Run the VNF on an NFVI -- which will in effect be dedicated to a single VNF for the time being -- to gain experience of the way in which a VNF interacts with the various NFVI components. There will be multiple dimensions to this interaction but it's especially important for operators to gain hands-on experience of VNF/NFVI management and orchestration, since this represents major change for their organizations.

That makes sense. It should be noted, however, that the process Chappell advocates will make NFV deployment a very long and segmented process.

John Healy, general manager of the software-defined networking division in Intel’s Network Platforms Group, was effusive in his praise of the progress that has been made. In a commentary on CIO, he agrees that NFV is not a completely set technology, however. Among the elements on the “to-do” list are system “ruggedization” and the creation of higher levels of orchestration.


“Ruggedization” refers to simply making NFV sturdy and capable of handling the many types of traffic and network conditions that exist in the real world. Orchestration means what it sounds like: For the greatest benefits to be realized, a high level of coordination is necessary to ensure that virtualized tasks happen as they should. Healy also said that advances must be made in interoperability.

NFV will transform networking, but it will take a long time to be implemented for several reasons. For one, it is a new technology that is not yet fully formed. Second, older infrastructure can be taken off line only gradually, and third, personnel must be trained on these new approaches.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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