Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) has continued to grow and prove popular across many industries in today’s connected world. Telecommunications is one such industry that is reaping the benefits it offers.


October 2, 2015

4 Min Read
Virtualisation is only the first step for a successful NFV network periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Robin Kent, director of European operations at Adax, looks at some of the measures required to make the most out of NFV.

Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) has continued to grow and prove popular across many industries in today’s connected world. Telecommunications is one such industry that is reaping the benefits it offers. According to a whitepaper from Linux Foundation, the main goal of NFV is to increase service agility while enabling better asset utilization. However, this goal often gets lost in the search for a ‘software only’, NFV/SDN solution without really understanding the needs of individual networks and applications.

To prove successful, NFV can only occur when there is architecture in place for both hardware and software. Considering software in isolation doesn’t work. Individual networks will vary according to local demands and operator preferences and an appreciation of the roles of both hardware and software is essential for the NFV architecture. This is especially true when considering applications that require a simplified hardware assist solution.

The performance demands of certain applications and network functions such as security gateway, Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) and the 4G/LTE core network require hardware acceleration on the data plane because of the high data throughput of these applications. Separating the control and data planes improves the control of the network and paves the way for a more effective and reliable NFV implementation. But it’s not enough to stop there.

This separation will centralise the control plaCOTSne so that third party applications can run autonomously which turns the control plane into a Virtual Network Function (VNF), leading to a more flexible and dynamic network. Yes, agility and flexibility are improved but also the OPEX cost to the operator is reduced by simplifying the control and programming of the network.

The best practice for operators should be to move the control plane to a virtual machine, offering a simplified solution for network management whilst adding to the quality and value of the overall solution with hardware acceleration for the data plane. Operators need to ensure they have virtualisation and distribution management system resources in place. The role of a Virtual Network Function Manager (VNFM) is a necessity to establish close communications between the NFV manager, and therefore the software and hardware in the field.

Too much of the focus for operators is searching for a virtualised network solution that is on generic COTS hardware, without understanding the actual network or user requirements. In fact, hardware and software can and should work in tandem but it’s important to recognise how and where that hardware runs in the network. For now, applications that require hardware assist require dedicated and specialised COTS hardware.

With a control plane that’s both centralised and virtualised, the next question is how to ensure the applications can meet the demands of performance, reliability, flexibility and scalability when faced with high throughput. As a result, the performance demands of certain applications, network functions and nodes such as a Security Gateway, DPI and the 4G LTE core network points towards the need for hardware acceleration at the data plane.

Today, it’s important to take advantage of both COTS and dedicated hardware, and make sure the control and data planes are decoupled for NFV. Not all applications need hardware acceleration but many do, especially those with high packet throughput. Separating the control and data planes simplifies network control and operators need to have the hardware solution in place to accelerate and deliver cost-effective, reliable application performance.


Robin-Kent-150x150.jpgRobin Kent is Director of European Operations at Adax Europe. For many years, Robin held senior positions within established equipment manufacturers, software houses and integrators in the telecom, wide area network, and office automation markets.  He joined Adax in 1994 to establish the Adax business unit in Europe. He has overseen the company’s successful transition from an OEM technology supplier to a customer focused provider of high quality, high performance telecommunications products to network equipment providers and VAS companies throughout EMEA and India.

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