Cisco brings Network Functions Virtualization to the enterprise

With traditional network infrastructure, services have been tied to dedicated hardware devices. Network functions virtualization (NFV) changes this paradigm by decoupling the network functions from the underlying hardware platform.

To date, NFV has been used primarily by service providers for service chaining, but recently digital enterprises have become interested in the technology. ZK Research (I am an employee of ZK Research) data shows that 61% of organizations are investigating or have deployed Enterprise NFV.

I’ve seen many reports and articles that compare NFV and server virtualization and while I understand the comparison, there is a significant difference. Server virtualization has been used primarily to consolidate servers in the data center. While NFV has tremendous value in the data center, it can also bring value to other points in the network including the campus, branch offices and even the cloud. Also, the main value proposition of server virtualization is to lower costs but NFV can lower costs and increase the agility of network services.

Today, at Partner Summit, Cisco announced an NFV solution, specifically designed for its enterprise customers. The Cisco Enterprise NFV offering is designed to enable organizations to create, provision and manage network functions across the enterprise. Through the solution, essential network services that were once available only on dedicated hardware platforms are now virtual workloads deployed as software on a variety of hardware platforms.

Cisco Enterprise NFV is a complete solution that includes the following key components:

  • Enterprise Service Automation (ESA) is the management platform for Enterprise NFV that runs on the Cisco Application Policy Infrastructure Controller Enterprise Module (APIC-EM). ESA enables businesses to deploy new services and modify existing services within minutes. The platform manages the full life cycle of virtual network services by providing the following:
  • Design: Standardization of site design through the creation of templates for the branch and campus; policy definition based on business priorities; custom or prescriptive designs
  • Provisioning: Zero-touch deployment model; automated orchestration of virtual and physical network services; service chaining and licensing
  • Management: Health monitoring of platform and network services; dynamic scaling of services; service deployment and service-level agreement management
  • Virtual network functions are all the network services needed to run a network. Cisco Enterprise NFV includes the following services:

-      Routing (ISRv)

-      Firewall (ASAv)

-      Application acceleration (vWAAS)

-      Wireless LAN controller (vWLC)

In addition to the above services, Cisco Enterprise NFV will also enable third-party solutions to run on the platform. Customers will be able to cost effectively migrate to the platform because Cisco ONE enables license portability from physical devices to software counterparts.

  • Cisco Enterprise NFV Infrastructure Software (NFVIS) plays a role in Enterprise NFV that is similar to a hypervisor’s role in server virtualization. Enterprise NFVIS encapsulates the virtual services and provides customers with freedom of choice in deployment and platform options for the Cisco Enterprise NFV solution. By virtualizing and abstracting the network services from the underlying hardware, Enterprise NFVIS enables the virtual network services to be managed independently and to be provisioned dynamically. Enterprise NFVIS supports service chaining, zero-touch deployment, life-cycle management and programmable, open APIs for third-party applications.
  • Cisco Enterprise NFV is supported on multiple hardware platforms to give customers deployment choices. The virtual network services are supported on the following hardware platforms:

Physical router with virtualized services: The Cisco ISR 4000 with Unified Computing System (UCS) E-Series Server enables customers to keep their physical router and run the virtual services on the embedded UCS Server. This is ideal for customers that need the guaranteed performance of ISR for optimized routing or for customers that currently have a large investment in ISR 4000 routers.

Virtualized router and services: Customers can use the Cisco UCS C-Series Server to run all the network services as virtual workloads. This is a good option for customers with older routing platforms or for businesses that require routing to be an agile service.

Cisco’s Enterprise NFV is a complete solution that is part of a larger Digital Network Architecture (DNA) also announced at Partner Summit.

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