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Where to Put Your VNFs

Roz Roseboro

As has been documented widely, NFV was one of the main topics of discussion during the recent Big Telecom Event (BTE) in Chicago. (See Let's Federate Our NFV Labs – Telefónica and this show site for full coverage of the BTE event.)

I found it particularly encouraging that BTE attendees were thinking hard about how network functions virtualization will be implemented in telco data centers.

One of the key debates centers around where virtual network functions (VNFs) should reside: Some are pushing a vision whereby some functions are distributed all the way to the customer premises; others believe they should reside in the telco cloud.

In August 2013, Tom Nolle of CIMI Corp. launched the CloudNFV initiative, and earlier this year Dell Technologies (Nasdaq: DELL) assumed the leadership role in that initiative, which focus on the capabilities required to manage and orchestrate VNFs in a network architecture. I recently spoke with Bala Pitchaikani, Head of Dell NFV Strategy and Product Management, about the company's participation in the CloudNFV initiative and what Dell is hearing from telcos as they begin the process of transforming their data centers to support NFV. (See Dell Has Big NFV Plans.)

Dell is keen to stress that CloudNFV is not about doing old things in a new way. Rather, it is defining its architectural vision as "open," "innovative," and "extensible." The CloudNFV team is focusing on building a foundation that will ultimately provide differentiation for telcos, and is putting a lot of focus on building the open orchestration interfaces to telcos' existing OSS/BSS systems, recognizing that telcos must be able to leverage their existing systems.

CloudNFV was the first proof of concept (PoC) accepted by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) NFV industry specifications group (ISG), and is the only PoC that focuses on a framework, whereas others are trying to implement one of the ISG's specified use cases. It's because of the focus on the framework that Dell is able to showcase the need for the type of strong foundation that telcos should implement.

Dell regards the NFV platform as the base that delivers standard northbound interfaces to support OSS/BSS integration as well as open orchestration of the various components and sub-systems of the platform. Dell regards the platform as a plug-and-play framework for NFVs that can help enable service agility as well as deliver opex and capex savings.

Dell strongly believes that the NFV ISG's use cases 1-4 -- which deal with the provision of NFV Infrastructure, VNF and Virtual Network Platform as a Service, and VNF Forwarding Graphs -- must be deployed, as they are the foundational pieces for the NFV architecture that is necessary to reap the benefits of new and differentiated services.

Need to know more about network functions virtualization and the cloud? Then check out the agenda for NFV and the Data Center, September 16 at the Santa Clara Marriott, Calif.

The Dell team is currently debating what uses cases telcos are really looking for, though it's understood that ensuring that telcos are able to provide a differentiated offering is of critical importance. Something being considered is the way in which VNFs can be used once deployed -- in effect asking, now that those functions are running on a different, virtual platform, how can things be done differently than in the past?

According to Dell, telcos have been requesting details related to the cloud-based delivery of VNFs in their request for information (RFI) documents. However, Dell believes that, ultimately, it is likely that different parts of a solution will reside in different places. For example, firewall enforcement might be performed at the customer premises, but all of the related policies (the complexity) would reside in a virtual point of presence (vPoP) or central office. One reason Dell says telcos will want to deliver VNFs via the cloud is that functionality would be dynamic, and able to respond to changing needs. In fact, if this doesn't happen, the NFV movement will have been a failure, in Dell's opinion.

The notion of distributed versus centralized VNFs is just one of the topics that will be discussed and debated at Light Reading's upcoming NFV and the Data Center event, where my colleague, Heavy Reading senior analyst Jim Hodges, and I will lead sessions that will delve into the practical considerations for telcos as they prepare to deploy NFV in their data centers.

— Roz Roseboro, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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User Rank: Light Sabre
8/8/2014 | 6:39:39 PM
Re: Location matters
What is the biggest challenge with chaining appliances?
Kevin Mitchell
Kevin Mitchell,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/6/2014 | 5:20:43 PM
Skip Building NFV - Cloud Source It
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should re-build the network with virtual functions. For commoditized services like voice, it's better to use a cloud source approach for the superior economics and flexibility, faster time to market and easier management/support model. You can get NFV hosted.

Read more: Hosted NFV Means Voice Network as a Service
sam masud
sam masud,
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 2:37:10 PM
Re: Location matters
Though the issue of centralized v. distribued is certainly important, am I wrong in thinking that chaining itself becomes a whole lot easier with NFV than doing it the old-fashioned (appliance) way.
User Rank: Light Beer
8/5/2014 | 1:38:46 PM
Location matters
I believe that Dell is absolutely correct that VNF location is important for NFV and not all functions will be in the "cloud". It will make sense to push some functions to the edge and others will be in the data center. Which data center will depend on the networking use case under consideration as latency and performace considerations will have to be balanced against the possible savings from rental location/equipment consolidation. In such an environment distributed chaining is very important.
User Rank: Light Sabre
8/5/2014 | 2:26:14 AM
Re: It depends
As long as positioning of VNFs directly maps to CAPEX and ARPU, their proper positioning depends mostly on reliability of VNFs' operation. Which comes down to (a) responsiveness (e.g. delay sensitivity), (b) efficiency of operation (e.g. bandwidth-hungry functions), and (c) independence of network connectivity (i.e. network health).

Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
8/4/2014 | 2:59:16 PM
It depends
Whether the VNF should be in the cloud, datacenter, or customer premises dependson what you want to do with it. Some applications will be  suitable for one location, some for another. 
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