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NFV As a Use-Case for SDN: The Role of SDN in Service Provider Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

As consumption models for compute have changed in the new cloud era, many eyes have been opened to the possibilities for a more responsive network infrastructure. If applications and the servers they run on can be virtualized, turned up at will and consumed as needed, why can’t the networks that support them be just as agile?

Over the past year, we have seen that they certainly can. Indeed the power of instantaneous policy-driven instantiation of connectivity and network services applies to IT applications and telco applications alike.  The technology has now matured to a point where service providers around the world are looking to virtualize network functions (NFV) wherever it makes sense to do so. Adopting the cloud operational mindset and transforming their networks to a software-defined model stands to liberate service providers from the static and operationally inefficient paradigms of the past, and open up new service offerings that extend beyond connectivity and incorporate datacenter assets as part of the value they deliver.

The ideal future state of the network, as it turns out, is the same whether we are talking about instantaneous and unconstrained IT apps or telco apps. In datacenter use cases of SDN, the networking needs of IT applications are met seamlessly in accordance with policies defined for hierarchies of users, leveraging assets throughout and across data centers, and extending to branch locations. Policies are defined in alignment with cloud management systems such as OpenStackCloudStack or VMware vCloud Director, and network connectivity is established instantaneously by SDN Controllers and hypervisor-resident agents that provide a seamless and secure network fabric. Nuage Networks has been delivering exactly that for the past nine months.

Not accidentally, there is a clear parallel as we move to virtualize network functions in the service provider environment. In the NFV case, three things need to happen simultaneously but separately:

  • First, the telco applications themselves need to be virtualized. That includes functions such as the wireless Evolved Packet Core (EPC)IP Multimedia Systems (IMS), and many others. While possibilities for virtualization of a broad scope of network functions is being assessed, it is clear that some lend themselves more readily to immediate virtualization than others. Virtualization provides the flexibility to deliver network functions in standard server environments as well as purpose-built systems, as the service provider scenario warrants.
  • Separately, a class of cloud management systems is required that is tuned to the exacting needs of telco apps and the service provider operational environment. This includes aspects of workload placement and OSS integration that ensures the performance of services in the virtualized environment, and that SLAs are met. NFV cloud management systems will also provide a level of open-ness that allows a broader scope of applications to be readily integrated from the application developer community, extending the range of services that can be made available.
  • Finally, once policies are defined for telco apps in the NFV world, it remains critical for the network connectivity to be instantaneously established in accordance to those policies for those applications and their users. That is exactly what SDN does in support of NFV.
  • Alcatel-Lucent is paving the way for making virtual telco services a reality by addressing each of these three elements in a meaningful way:
  • Key applications such as IMS and EPC have been virtualized already, and virtualization of many other telco apps is underway (see Mobile Meets Cloud with Network Functions Virtualization).
  • The CloudBand NFV platform provides a robust orchestration engine for assuring performance of virtualized applications from Alcatel-Lucent as well as those from a rapidly expanding community of partners.
  • And with Nuage Networks, the underlying network provides instantaneous connectivity in accordance with policies defined for those apps by the CloudBand NFV platform.  Just as the Nuage Networks VSP delivers the power of SDN in sync with compute orchestration platforms (such as OpenStack, CloudStack or vCloudDirector) in support of IT workloads, it does so in sync with the Alcatel-Lucent CloudBand NFV platform in support of virtualized telco apps in the NFV arena.

For the Nuage Virtualized Services Platform, NFV is simply another compelling use case for providing unconstrained and boundary-less networks as service providers around the world embrace the cloud.

Houman Modarres


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