Traditionally, network functions virtualization and software-defined networking have been parallel concepts – with NFV widely adopted by major telcos, while SDN has been much more the focus of enterprises. In 2018, we believe that we will begin to see a major shift as enterprises begin to explore the business and operational benefits that NFV can provide.
Some of the biggest enterprise IT initiatives for 2018, reported by industry analysts and others, include cloud (public, private, and hybrid), digital transformation, blockchain and others. If you look at these trends from a 30,000-foot view, you can easily see that the majority of them will be heavily reliant on the underlying network infrastructure to meet their respective potentials.
Within the IT infrastructure, networking and security functions like routing/switching, load balancing, NGFW, WAF and others are critical to the performance of the overall network and thus the ability of the larger initiatives to achieve performance objectives.
In the past, IT professionals would automatically turn to hardware-based appliances for the optimal performance and throughput for these functions. More recently, virtual appliances have gained a great deal of traction; however while the virtual editions of networking and security appliances offer much greater agility, their performance is typically much lower than that of dedicated, hardware-based appliances.
The performance deficit of networking and security virtual appliances is due in large part to the use of general-purpose hardware within virtual (and hyperconverged) environments, resource contention with other VAs, and the lack of specialized hardware – such as SSL processors.
NFV has the potential to overcome the issues of performance, scalability, agility and/or robustness of all of these options; however, industry analysts have reported that enterprise IT departments have been slow to adopt NFV due to concerns about potential for organizational disruptions, skills deficits among existing staff members, and the lack of ability to accurately foresee return on investment.
There is a bright spot in the future of NFV, though.
A new class of products, called Network Functions Platforms or virtualized/multitenant appliances, has recently arisen, designed to help enterprises address critical concerns about NFV adoption, along with the negative aspects of both dedicated and virtual appliances.
A Network Functions Platform is designed to abstract and automate the complex configurations required by NFV so that any IT team – networking, server or virtualization focused – can easily and accurately deploy networking and security functions with almost no training needed. These platforms include an intuitive WebUI that simplifies creation of service chaining, for example one or more application delivery controller instances set up to load balance traffic to a DDoS prevention instance, and then to a WAF or NGFW instance.
With a Network Functions Platform, performance is guaranteed through dedicated resources (memory, I/O, SSL and compute) for each instance. The performance-crushing ‘hypervisor tax’ is minimized by providing separate resources for hypervisor overhead. In addition, by focusing on a narrower use case – networking and security functions that central to supporting the performance of business-critical initiatives – ROI and TCO are now far easier to calculate.
While Network Functions Platforms may be just a first step toward achieving widespread adoption of NFV, we believe they are an important steppingstone for enterprises that can have an immediate impact and pave the way for wider NFV deployments.
Will 2018 be the year that enterprise NFV begins to take flight? Share your opinion in the comments section below.