Editor's note: The following article on the emergence of dynamic virtual network services is the last in our three-part...
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series on the evolution of network services to meet the changing needs of enterprise IT. Part one looked at the increasing number of WAN access options, and part two looked at the emergence of cloud exchanges to facilitate public cloud use.
The worlds of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization have arrived at the enterprise edge. Empowered by a growing list of software and equipment vendors supporting carrier-grade NFV, network service providers are beginning to share the love by creating a new class of services for enterprises: dynamic virtual network services.
The goal of dynamic virtual network services, sometimes called network as a service, is to make enterprise connections to the carrier as fast and flexible as internal networking can be in the age of SDN. It does so by separating the ability to implement new services for an enterprise customer from the need to deploy specialized capital equipment to the carrier and/or enterprise edge each time.
Network service providers get a huge business advantage from dynamic virtual network services: They can architect, engineer and deliver new services more quickly and easily than ever before. They can reduce their service lead times from taking years to deploy after development to taking months or even weeks. The advantage to the enterprise is the ability to more easily and nimbly try out new service offerings from the carriers with less disruption and up-front effort to bring new services on-line.
The core value of dynamic virtual network services comes from deployment of NFV on both sides of the edge: in the service provider's customer premises equipment (CPE) or in the provider premises equipment on either side of the link to the enterprise. In fact, carriers will realize similar benefits by implementing NFV deeper inside their own networks over time, as well. The premises equipment will go from being specialized, dedicated network appliances of limited and specific function to being general purpose network service nodes, probably generic x86-type servers that can run multiple virtualized network functions (VNFs).
VNFs are the actual workhorses of an NFV environment, providing the same kinds of network functions as specialized hardware: routing, firewall filtering, load balancing and WAN optimization, among others. Conceptually, any network service can be virtualized and run on a VNF hosting node.
The initial dynamic virtual network services offerings focus on making the service edge more dynamic for standard connectivity. For example, the network service provider may provide its new CPE box along with a very high capacity Ethernet link -- along with the ability to dial connection speeds and the associated billing up and down as needed by the enterprise. This kind of change, of course, requires a whole separate revolution in carrier operations and billing support systems software to empower this kind of change to billing.
Ultimately, dynamic virtual network services will shake up not only the traditional enterprise-carrier and carrier-supplier landscapes, but also that of enterprise wide area networking gear: routers, security appliances like firewalls, and distributed denial of service defense appliances, optimizers, everything. In ways more flexible and agile than ever before, enterprise WAN functionality will be convenient to deploy as a carrier-delivered service rather than a layered, appliance-based enterprise service.
These changes will require enterprises to get very clear about what they want to continue to architect and run themselves -- with the associated degree of control and choice that brings -- versus what they are willing to have delivered as a service, with the shift in control and increased risk of service provider lock-in accompanying that.
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