Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) is now a fairly well-established technology in the datacentres of large service providers – we run 1000 Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) in our own operation, for example. But the technology is now beginning to break out into the mainstream. We’re working with a number of organisations that are starting to implement it in their own networks.
Over the next few years, we expect this trend to accelerate significantly as the technology has the potential to give customers similar benefits in terms of flexibility and agility that they’ve come to expect from other virtualised parts of their IT infrastructure such as compute and storage.
Essentially NFV allows you to replicate the functions of individual pieces of network hardware such as routers and firewalls, from multiple vendors, as ‘Virtual Network Functions’ (VNFs) inside a virtual machine. Today these VNFs might typically reside in the branch on virtual customer presence equipment (vCPE) – normally a compute box that can host multiple virtual functions as well as routing – but in future they may well be located externally, for example in the cloud or on service providers’ premises.
The technology offers considerable benefits when it comes to orchestration and management. VNFs can be connected together into a service and managed centrally, entirely through software, either in-house or (more likely) by your service provider. And although it is still early days for the technology outside the datacentre, there are three immediate drivers that will prompt more take-up over the next few years. Firstly, any organisation whose network hardware comes up for a refresh are highly likely to look at their options for network virtualisation. Secondly, many organisations implementing SD-WAN are eventually likely to want to add functions that their current kit does not support, so at that point NFV becomes an attractive complementary option. And lastly, you can expand quickly and you don’t necessarily need specialist skills to install or manage it afterwards.
Interestingly, research data tells us that 60% businesses are looking to run proof of concept or full rollouts of NFV in the next 24 months. Organisations interested in assessing whether the technology might be appropriate for their needs would be well advised to select a few small pilot sites for proof of concept. And given this is still a fairly new area within the enterprise – and therefore not without risk – be sure to work with a partner that has experience with NFV and can advise you on suitable approaches.
If you’re interested in reading more about BT’s NFV services, check out our pages on Cloud Connectivity.