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NFV – Transforming the Operational Model of the Network

At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona today, Pat Gelsinger (VMware CEO) laid out a clear vision for the Software-Defined Data Center (SDDC) and how it encompasses Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).

The solution really begins with the massive-scale Cloud Data Centers that serve as the “control room” for both mobile operators as well as enterprises around the world. SDDC extends common virtualization concepts — abstraction, pooling and automation — to all data center resources and services — across compute, networking and storage. In essence, SDDC is the distributed operating system for the data center, be it on-prem or in the cloud.

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Virtualization has already transformed the compute elements of these data centers, enabling new levels of agility and cost efficiency. What was once thought impossible (virtualizing the x86 architecture) is now commonplace. Almost 70% of all enterprise workloads run virtualized.

At VMware, we’re continuing to invest and innovate in compute virtualization. Whether it’s low latency or real time apps, High Performance Computing, Hadoop, or the new 3rd platform apps, they can all benefit from the advantages of virtualization and resource elasticity. With the release of vSphere 5.5 last year, our hypervisor’s capabilities leaped a generation ahead, to handle many classes of low latency applications like those in telecommunications. We also released our Big Data Extensions for Hadoop, and we’re continuing to innovate in this space. We won’t stop until all apps can take advantage of the benefits of virtualization.

The next logical step in our SDDC journey, then, is to extend virtualization to data center networks and storage. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about software-defined storage when we formally launch Virtual SAN shortly. Meanwhile, here are a few links that explain it in depth: Virtual SAN, What’s New in VMware Virtual SAN, & Software-Defined Storage and Availability.

Now, let me get back to virtualizing the network. Before I outline my views, I will point to the insights of two of my colleagues – our smart-as-a-whip Networking CTO, Martin Casado and our passionate-about-networking GM, Steve Mullaney (the man is obsessed with network virtualization): Martin Casado on Network Virtualization & VMware NSX Virtualizes the Network to Transform Network Operations.

In short, VMware NSX™ is our platform for network virtualization. NSX is software that virtualizes the network, decoupling it from the underlying hardware. It takes advantage of the existing network infrastructure (no need to rip and replace those existing switches and routers) to enable new levels of service delivery speed, agility, and cost reductions.

VMware views Network Functions Virtualization as the next logical step in our industry’s on-going effort to abstract hardware resources across all types of data center infrastructure. When we talk about extending the power of virtualization to Service Provider networks, what we mean is:

  • Extracting software functionality from dedicated network devices and running them on x86 processors in a virtualized environment
  • Transforming service provider network functions into elastic, pooled resources while providing compatibility with existing network management tools
  • Creating an environment for orchestration of all resources in a cloud data center, including compute, networking, and storage

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The proper functioning of core network applications is inextricably tied to the configuration of the network underneath them. To quickly provision or adapt virtual network functions requires that you be able to do the same with their network routes. Programmatic provisioning transforms service delivery times from weeks to seconds. NSX presents a simplified network fabric (L2-L7) that can be programmed using standard and public interfaces. Virtual networks can be created in seconds, saved, deleted, and restored, just like we do for virtual machines today, without modifying the applications or having to manually configure physical switches. This is critical to enabling the agility that NFV requires.

The beauty of the NSX network virtualization platform is that it deploys non-disruptively over any existing physical network infrastructure and supports topologies from any vendor. Because NSX exactly reproduces the networking model in software, existing application workloads operate unmodified and existing network monitoring and troubleshooting tools view and process virtual network traffic just as they would physical network traffic. We have seen very strong traction for VMware NSX among leading telcos and enterprises globally. NSX also has very broad ecosystem support: practically every networking and security company out there has joined us to build a great partner ecosystem for NSX.

The key to success with NFV is adoption of a cloud platform that supports a wide array of vendor applications found in the core network. VMware works with leading Network Equipment Providers and ISVs across the telecom industry to certify their solutions for deployment on the vSphere cloud environment. I invite you to take a look at some of these solutions by visiting our Telecom page on the VMware Solutions Exchange.

I believe that NFV will prove to be a very cost-effective way to build and manage service provider networks. It is going to have a huge positive impact on business models as it enables operators to adapt to and benefit from dramatically compressed innovation cycles. Networking architectures and practices from over two decades ago no longer hold us back. NFV is not something in the distant future. NFV is here now. We are ready to help operators accelerate delivery of new and differentiated services quickly and to increase revenue streams while reducing operational expenses. Are you ready to join in this transformation of the Service Provider network?

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