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Five Ways Network Virtualization Will Revolutionize IT

Oct. 23, 2014
Brian Eiler


Discover how Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) will revolutionize IT and change the way you think about network connectivity and perhaps even application development. This white paper is written for networking professionals but it may offer valuable insight for those in cross-functional roles such as DevOps, server virtualization, and data center management.


Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), sometimes abbreviated to just Network Virtualization, has been growing in popularity for several years. Like its cousin, Software-Defined Networking (SDN), NFV grew out of the need to enhance our networks beyond what traditional network hardware could offer. While SDN focused on how to adapt physical networking equipment to adhere to a more centralized administration model, NFV focused on how to bring the traditional hardware-only functionality of network devices into the virtual realm. Through the use of NFV, we now have virtual switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers, and more. This has enabled both hardware and software vendors alike to bring new products and technologies to the public, that otherwise would have been impossible.

In this article we'll explore how NFV products, such as VMware's NSX platform, will reshape the IT infrastructure by expanding our capabilities in the datacenter while simultaneously increasing our flexibility through hardware vendor independence. We'll also look at how NFV can greatly enhance the security and potentially even the performance of your network by using virtual network devices. Then we'll look at how NFV can help us automatically scale our web and application farms to tackle those burst workloads like eCommerce during the holiday seasons. In addition to operational points, we'll also discuss how NFV can help you adopt new development strategies such as DevOps by automating the creation and management of network devices. Finally, we'll see how NFV aims to increase our overall enterprise security by allowing us to silently analyze our virtual workloads for malware and intrusions without installing agent software within the operating systems.

Superior Firepower through Hardware Independence

NFV sets your network free; at least from the old rule of "one vendor to rule them all." NFV solutions such as VMware's NSX platform help open the door to multi-vendor infrastructure solutions by reducing our dependency on single-vendor hardware solutions for advanced networking functionality. Through the use of both hypervisor modules and partner-provided virtual machines (VMs), VMware NSX can provide distributed routers, firewalls, and load balancers that provide the level of functionality and performance you would expect from a hardware solution. Yet because the overall infrastructure is intended to be open and partner-driven, the framework is built more like a blank canvas than a rigid structure, allowing your organization to paint the big picture with different vendors and products.

Historically we've needed hardware devices to gain access to advanced network services like routers, firewalls, load balancers, or SSL offloading devices. Furthermore, to maintain compatibility with existing infrastructure investments, many organizations chose to remain loyal to a single hardware vendor, often at the expense of additional costs or missing functionality. In addition to costing more money, remaining loyal to a single vendor can directly restrict you from certain features and functionality. Translation: NFV can save you money by breaking vendor lock-in, while still providing the functionality you have come to rely upon.

It has been said that trading hardware for software is a lot like trading one tyrant for another, and that would be true if not for all the hardware and software vendor cooperation in the NFV marketplace. One of the key tenants of NFV is the priority of interoperability and the flexibility to choose the right component for the job. Part of the need for compatibility comes from the fact that few companies are willing or able to completely replace their existing physical infrastructure just to adopt NFV. Therefore, if vendors wish to sell NFV solutions, those solutions must be able to interoperate with a wide variety of hardware and software components. To accomplish this, some NFV solutions rely upon SDN to integrate the management aspects of the hardware and software solutions into a single platform. Alternatively, if the organization intends to rely more heavily on the virtual infrastructure, the underlying hardware can be completely abstracted by creating virtual tunnels, called overlays, that essentially create networks within networks.

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