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What's the latest on NFV and VNFs for enterprises?

As virtualized network functions become more and more common, will that change NFV and VNF roles in businesses? Probably not, but other roadblocks may hinder further results.

Network functions virtualization, or NFV, became popular a few years ago as a means to create virtual network functions, or VNFs, to replace hardware-based or appliance-based network services, like load balancing, gateways and firewalls.

While some experts saw NFV and VNF as hype or as goals of an overidealized future, we are now seeing results. As of 2019, NFV was a $12 billion market, which continues to grow quickly, as vendors see NFV as a widely accepted alternative to deploy network functions. Companies like Cisco, Ericsson, F5 Networks, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Huawei, Intel and Riverbed have active NFV offerings.

Where NFV and VNF stand today

Practically every enterprise network function is available as a virtualized offering, along with traditional hardware offerings. As customers move toward consumption-based IT models, these offerings become more interesting. In the cloud world, practically every cloud networking function is already virtualized as well.

Telecommunications and service providers led the way in NFV, primarily because the evolution to 5G requires VNFs in order to realize back-end 5G benefits. While many vendors baked NFV capabilities into their 5G products, the most impending barrier to 5G adoption currently is the global COVID-19 pandemic, which caused many carriers to either interrupt or postpone 5G rollouts.

Does open accessibility to NFV and VNF capabilities exist?

Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV), an open source NFV platform and community, facilitates a common NFV infrastructure for businesses, carriers and service providers. And, according to OPNFV Director Heather Kirksey, the OPNFV Verification Program (OVP) will help deliver better interoperability for VNFs across vendor hardware, NFV infrastructure and virtual infrastructure managers.

OVP can bring more verification and interoperability to help different VNFs work together more efficiently and ease customer challenges as they deploy and chain together these critical network functions.

Next Steps

NFV vs. VNF: What's the difference?

This was last published in March 2020

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