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Why all the fuss about network functions virtualization (NFV)? Here is some background, a definition and some references to help focus the debate

What's NFV All About?

Ray Le Maistre
3/1/2013
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It has become abundantly clear during the past week at Mobile World Congress that the topic of network functions virtualization (NFV) is going to be a key focus for network operators and their partners and suppliers in the coming years. (See MWC: The Network Blinked.) So it's important at this point to pin down what NFV is/means if it's going to be important. Why the term NFV? Because it is the term used by the network operator members of the Industry Specifications Group formed in late 2012 under the auspices of European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). When the group was announced it had already put together a white paper on NFV, which included the following definition:

    Network Functions Virtualisation aims to transform the way that network operators architect networks by evolving standard IT virtualisation technology to consolidate many network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage, which could be located in Datacentres, Network Nodes and in the end user premises... It involves the implementation of network functions in software that can run on a range of industry standard server hardware, and that can be moved to, or instantiated in, various locations in the network as required, without the need for installation of new equipment.
The white paper usefully explains the relationship with software-defined networking (SDN): "Network Functions Virtualisation aligns closely with the SDN objectives to use commodity servers and switches," but importantly notes that NFV "goals can be achieved using non-SDN mechanisms." The white paper is available right here. The group met in January this year and is meeting again in April in California to coincide with the Open Networking Summit and an Open Networking Foundation meeting (so that the NFV and SDN communities can find common ground while drinking the Napa Valley's finest -- and why not!). The January meeting appears to have generated multiple working groups and expert groups -- check out this blog, Report from the ETSI NFV Meeting, to find out more. What's encouraging currently is that the operator members of the NFV Industry Specifications Group are very keen to figure out whether this is a red herring or the start of a new era in wide area network topography. No doubt they will be helped and hindered along the way by "messaging" from the industry. What the team at Light Reading wants to do is help keep the debate focused by identifying productive technology and strategic advances and flag up those that don't. Despite our best efforts and intentions, I have no doubt that, at times, we'll get it wrong. And that's why the message boards here on Light Reading and this LinkedIn group are important -- informed input (including constructive criticism) is needed and encouraged. So please weigh in. In the meantime, here are some recent NFV-related articles: — Ray Le Maistre, International Managing Editor, Light Reading

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