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What is Network Function Virtualization (NFV)?

Simply put, Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) abstracts network services from hardware. This enables the installation, control and monitoring through software of virtualized and modular network functions for delivery as a service in a fraction of the time it would take to provision and deploy similar physical systems. Here we discuss NFV components, NFV use cases and how Virtualized Network Functions (VNF) is different from SDN.

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What is Network Function Virtualization (NFV)?

What is Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)?

As mentioned above, NFV abstracts away the hardware from network solutions. Functionality that was previously available only as physical appliances is now written as software that can be run on commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware.

 

The development of network functions virtualization has been going on for some time, but the establishment of the NFV Industry Specification Group (ISG) by European Telecommunications Standards Institute was an important milestone. The ETSI ISG NFV has defined open-source standards for NFV and developed open-source implementations of NFV.

NFV Component Architecture

An network functions virtualization framework is built using three main components:

 

  • NFV Infrastructure (NFVI): The NFVI includes all of the software and hardware that make up the environment into which NFVs are deployed. If NFVI spans multiple sites, the network connecting them is considered part of the NFVI.
  • Virtualized Network Functions (VNF): VNFs are network functions that can be implemented as software and deployed on NFVI. Examples include firewalls, software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), routing, and Quality of Service (QoS).
  • Management, Automation and Network Orchestration (MANO): NFV MANO performs management and orchestration of VNFs within the NVFI. This includes the functional blocks and the data repositories and reference points and interfaces that they use to communicate while managing and orchestrating NFVI and VNFs.

Network Functions Virtualization Use Cases

NFVs can be applied to a number of different use cases. Some examples include:

 

  • Service Chaining: Communication Service Providers (CSP) may chain and link together services or applications such as firewalls and SD-WAN network optimization and offer them as a service for delivery on-demand.
  • Software-Defined Branch and SD-WAN: SD-WAN network optimization and SD-Branch security functionality can be defined as NFVs. This enables these functions to be fully virtualized and offered as a service.
  • Network Monitoring and Security: A firewall can be implemented using NFV. This allows fully-virtualized monitoring of network flows and application of security policies for traffic routed through the firewall.

NFV vs SDN

NFV and Software-defined Networking (SDN) have been described as complementary options for the network of tomorrow.

 

SDN abstracts a network infrastructure into an application, a control plane and a data plane layer. Control of the network then becomes directly programmable, enabling automated provisioning and policy-based management of network resources. For instance, when a network change is needed, administrators can simply make the change in software instead of manually moving a network cable from one switch port to another.

 

NFV may be considered to be a use case of SDN, and, likewise, SDN can be realized using NFV. However, it is entirely possible to implement VNF independently of SDN and vice versa.

Benefits of using Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

 

NFV enables networking functionality that is traditionally implemented as specialized physical appliances to be created using software instead. This provides a number of benefits, including:

 

  • Reduced Costs: Physical appliances need to be purchased and configured, and consume space, power, and cooling. NFVs can be run on standard servers and can have significantly lower overhead requirements.
  • Faster Deployment: NFVs are implemented as software, meaning that they can be rolled out rapidly and easily updated. Initial deployment and updates of physical systems is much more time and resource intensive.
  • Support for Automation: As software, NFVs can be configured and managed programmatically. This enables an organization to leverage automation to rapidly change configurations or roll out updates at scale.
  • Improved Flexibility: As software, NFVs can elastically scale up and down as needed by allocating more or fewer resources to them. The same level of flexibility is not possible with physical appliances, which require the purchase of additional units for increased capacity and offer additional capacity in fixed-size chunks.
  • Decreased Vendor Lock-In: Physical security appliances can create vendor lock-in because it is difficult and expensive to switch from one platform to another. NVFs, which can run on any hardware, provide the ability to select the hardware that best suits an organization’s use case.

Virtualizing Security with Check Point

Check Point has a variety of virtual network security products designed to address a wide range of potential use cases. Security solutions implemented using VNF are especially useful in securing cloud networks, where physical security appliances are not an option.

 

To see how NFV can revolutionize cloud security, you’re welcome to request a free demonstration of CloudGuard, Check Point’s virtualized cloud security solution.

 

Check Point also offers Network Functions Virtualization implementations of core security solutions. Check Point’s Quantum Edge is a virtualized next-generation firewall (NGFW). Its lightweight design makes it perfect for deployment on SD-WAN and universal customer premises equipment (uCPE) devices. By combining security expertise with the power of NFV, Check Point is making leading security solutions available in any deployment environment. To see Quantum Edge in action, sign up for a free demo.

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