Virtualizing WAN capabilities

Virtualization has dramatically transformed data center infrastructure and now it’s time for wide area networking (WAN) to undergo a similar transformation.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) heralds a new era of networking in which WANs are software-centric, rather than tied to proprietary, inflexible hardware devices.

“NFV eliminates the need for proprietary hardware; and enables routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, content delivery systems, end-user devices, IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) nodes, and almost any other network function to run as software on virtual machines,” according to Roopashree Honnachari, industry director of business communications services with Frost & Sullivan.

Network functions as software

“In the network, NFV allows routers, switches, firewalls, load balancers, content delivery systems, end-user devices, IMS Nodes, and almost any other network function to be run as software on virtual machines—ultimately, on shared servers, using shared storage, ” Honnachari explained in an executive brief.

While not interdependent, NFV is complementary to Software-Defined Networking (SDN). AT&T Domain 2.0 initiative envisions NFV infrastructure being directed with software and SDN protocols to perform a broad variety of network functions and services. We’ll talk more about SDN is a subsequent post, but for now I want to focus on NFV.

As Honnachari explains, NFVs will run on industry-standard, centrally managed servers, replacing proprietary devices. “The ability to run these network functions on commodity servers can result in major cost savings, which the network service providers can pass on to enterprises,” she says.

Not dependent on truck rolls

Just as important in our view, those standardized servers can be provisioned or repurposed with software, rather than the truck-rolls and fork-lifts that slowed down updates and new installations of traditional WAN customer premise equipment (CPE). “Combining NFV with SDN, a virtual CPE can be instantiated, and network resources can be provisioned in near real time, as opposed to months, as is the case in traditional network architectures,” Honnachari noted.

This radically alters network modernization. As with other “IT as a service” transformations, NFV will open up the network architecture to greater choice, greater flexibility and great cost-efficiencies. As we envision it, third-party vendors will be able to deliver new and updated network features as software, with customers able to peruse, select and acquire new features almost as easily as they today download smartphone apps from an app store. We refer to this as Network Functions on Demand (NFoD) and will have more to say about that in a subsequent post.

Cloud-based services

Just as importantly, customers will be able to utilize WAN features in a variety of manners, from premise-based servers to carrier-based cloud services, depending on what makes most sense for that customer and the applications it wants to deploy.

In a world where every part of business is moving, ever faster, the new WAN era will be characterized by user-intuitive solutions that help businesses sense and adapt to shifting demands, allowing those businesses to achieve competitive advantage by helping them optimize their business in motion.

As the needs of the enterprise change, NFV features can be downloaded to existing servers or provisioned on newly acquired servers to quickly allow the networking infrastructure to meet the needs of the business. For more information, please download the Frost and Sullivan report at https://www.business.att.com/whitepaper or go to https://www.business.att.com/enterprise/Family/network-services/network-functions-on-demand for details on NFV and SDN. To find out more about the broad range of solutions we offer click on https://www.business.att.com/enterprise/portfolio/network-services.