High-level definition of NFV

A question I see pretty often is what is NFV or Network Function Virtualization. It’s a rather fancy acronym for virtualized network devices. Think of the idea of the virtual switch but expanded to other devices such as routers, load balancers and intrusion protection systems (IPS). 


Why would you want to virtualize these devices? For the same reason, you’d want to virtualize a server. Abstracting these network functions allows for more flexible operations. If you are a service provider such as AT&T and need to stand up thousands of devices a day as you add customers or make changes to existing accounts, NFV can save millions of dollars a year. By enabling automation, you can have customers make self-service changes to their accounts and eliminate the overhead of scheduling installation and rolling a truck. 


How does NFV help the enterprise? As your service providers enable NFV in their networks and at the customer edge you gain the efficiencies for deploying new sights or adding services to your existing operations. NFV also finds its way into the enterprise data center. Virtualization has caused the collapse of the data center design. Virtual switch ports now outnumber physical switch ports. Small companies can build complete data centers within a single server. Larger enterprises find that complex applications can fit within a single physical host. If you create a 3-layer application and traffic inspection between the VMs, the traditional design requires traffic to exit the physical server and return.  My deploying a virtual firewall, you can inspect the traffic on the local host. 

NFV allows for the further collapse of the data center. Add the concept of software-defined infrastructure and enterprise can create applications that weren’t possible. Think beyond the physical limitations of your data center. If you want to extend an application between both your physical data center and the public cloud NFV becomes the enabler. I wrote a piece over on TechTarget’s SearchAWS, which describes how VMware NSX enables hybrid cloud between your existing infrastructure and AWS. 


So, the concept of NFV isn’t exactly new. It’s an expansion of the virtualized network concept that most enterprises already use in today’s data center.