NFV and the Distributed Data Environment

A working knowledge of NFV is critical even to enterprise data center admins more concerned with SDN. Art Cole explains why.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Mar 27, 2015
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Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is widely viewed as a carrier format while SDN will make its home in the data center. While this is true up to a point, it shouldn’t give the enterprise a reason to think it has no stake in NFV development.

For one thing, NFV is likely to emerge as the primary means of connecting the enterprise to the cloud. As I’ve mentioned previously, Wide Area Networks (WANs) will continue to embrace greater LAN-like functionality as data environments become distributed over geographical distances. Placing them on a virtual footing is the best way to extend abstract network architectures over the long haul.

Of late, a number of solutions have hit the channel specifically targeting NFV for enterprise-to-data center connectivity. Accedian Networks’ SkyLIGHT VCX platform distributes virtual networking functions across programmable hardware modules, which can then be customized to enhance connectivity between public and private infrastructure. In this way, the company says it can bolster agile network capabilities without increasing costs or sacrificing network performance or precision, and without forcing changes on legacy systems or processes. The modules, also known as virtual customer premises equipment (vCPEs), can be deployed in minutes to provide services like programmable activation testing, bandwidth metering and multi-connection performance and SLA monitoring.

At the same time, longtime data center systems developers like VMware are working to tie NFV to their cloud platforms. The company recently disclosed that nearly 30 companies are layering various NFV solutions on top of vCloud, which should allow the enterprise to field widely distributed data environments without employing firewalls, network accelerators, load balancers and other systems at each physical location. And as you would expect, it will enable organizations to configure network connectivity faster to provide for more robust service delivery.

NFV is also staking a claim on optical networks via deployment on photonic integrated circuits (PICs), with companies like Infinera looking to establish their presence both on the carrier transport layer and the cloud services layer. Infinera has developed a “sliceable” technology that allows the chip’s capacity to be divided and then routed independently, enabling greater network flexibility, lower hardware requirements and improved bandwidth efficiency. The devices are expected to show up in line cards and other systems later this year.

Top networking providers are also working to integrate SDN and NFV into their broader systems portfolios. Brocade’s recent purchase of Riverbed’s SteelApp line is expected to enable both formats on the Vyatta virtual router/firewall platform as a means of maintaining a cohesive virtual networking solution across data center, telco and cloud infrastructures. As an application delivery controller (ADC), SteelApp is more at home in the datacenter, where it is closer to applications. Brocade is hoping it will appeal to enterprises looking to increase their reliance on IP networking as they push application loads onto the cloud – what the company calls “New IP” data center deployments.

NFV is certain to remain the carrier side of the abstract networking equation while SDN will hold sway in the data center, but this does not mean IT professionals should simply hand traffic off to NFV platforms and hope for the best. A working knowledge of what is happening outside the data center is essential if the enterprise hopes to maintain an optimal distributed networking environment.

When workloads rely on hybrid architectures, every facet of the networking stack plays a role in overall performance.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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