What is NFV (Network Function Virtualization) ?

The development of 5G has been made possible through the development of new technologies.  The role of Network Function Virtualization, or NFV, is to virtualize network equipment. Adlen Ksentini, a researcher at EURECOM, gives us a detailed overview of this virtualization.


What is NFV ?

Adlen Ksentini:  NFV is the virtualization of network functions, a system that service providers and network operators had hoped for in order to decouple software from hardware. It’s based on cloud computing: the software can be placed in a virtual environment – the cloud – and be run on PCs every day. The goal is to be able to use software that implements a network function and run it on different types of hardware, instead of having to purchase dedicated hardware.

How does it work?

A.K.: It relies on the use of a hypervisor, a virtualization layer that makes it possible to abstract the hardware. The goal is to virtualize the software that implements a network function to make it run on a virtual machine or a cloud-based container.

What kind of functions are virtualized?

A.K. : When we talk about network functions, it could refer to the router that sends packets to the right destination, firewalls that protect networks, DNS servers that translate domain names into IP addresses, or intrusion detection. All of these functions will be deployed in virtual machines or containers, so that a small or medium-sized company, for example, doesn’t have to invest in infrastructure to host these services, and may instead rent them from a cloud services provider, using the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) model.

What are the advantages of NFV?

A.K.: NFV provides all the benefits of cloud computing. First of all, it lowers costs since you only have to pay for the resources used. It also provides greater freedom since the virtualization layer enables it to be work on several types of hardware. It also makes it possible to react according to varying degree of traffic. If there’s a sudden rise in traffic it’s possible to scale up to respond to the demands.

Performance is another factor involved. Under normal circumstances, the computer’s operating system will not dedicate all of the processor’s capacity to a single task – it will spread it out and performance may suffer. The benefit of cloud computing is that it can take advantage of the almost unlimited resources of the cloud. This also makes for greater elasticity, since resources can be freed up when they are no longer needed.

Why is this technology central to 5G?

A.K.: 5G core networks are virtualized, they will run natively in the cloud. So we need software that is able to run these network functions in the cloud. NFV provides a number of advantages and that’s why it is used for the core of 5G. NFV and SDN are complementary and make it possible to obtain a virtual network.

Read more on I’MTech: What is SDN (Software-Defined networking)?

What developments are ahead for NFV?

A.K. : Communication technologies have created a framework for orchestrating and managing virtual resources, but the standard continues to evolve and a number of studies seek to improve it. Some aim to work on the security aspect, to better defend against attacks. But we’re also increasingly hearing about using artificial intelligence to enable the operator to improve resources without human intervention. That’s the idea behind Zero Touch Management, so that NFV networks can be self-correcting, self-manageable and, of course, secure.


Tiphaine Claveau for I’MTech

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