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Array Networks 2017 Predictions: Making Virtual Network Functions a Practical Reality

VMblog Predictions 2017

Virtualization and Cloud executives share their predictions for 2017.  Read them in this 9th annual series exclusive.

Contributed by Paul Andersen, senior director of marketing at Array Networks

Making Virtual Network Functions a Practical Reality

Recently, an increasing number of enterprises have shifted away from using hardware appliances for all of their networking and security needs. The realization is that while there remains a place for big iron solutions, there is much to be said for the agility of virtual network functions (NFV). Virtual functions can respond to the needs of applications in a matter of minutes or even seconds, and truck rolls and installation are no longer required to enable new services. These attributes greatly reduce both CapEx and OpEx and create a significant business case for using virtual load balancers, firewalls, routers and other functions in a growing number of scenarios.

There is, however, a catch. There is a reason that networking and security functions were originally offered as purpose-built appliances (with specialized chip sets, components and architectures); it is because these functions are far more compute intensive that the average application workload. Combine this fact with the performance penalty of hypervisor management, and it becomes clear why many NFVs do not scale well on virtualized commodity x86 servers.

Nevertheless, the genie is out of the bottle; IT professionals that have been exposed to software-centric solutions will not abandon this powerful new approach. Rather, they will seek out solutions that deliver the best of both worlds: the agility of cloud and virtualization and the performance of dedicated appliances. As performance roadblocks for virtual network and security functions are encountered, new deployment models will emerge in 2017 to provide higher levels of guaranteed performance in shared environments.

One approach, introduced by several vendors in 2016, and gaining in popularity is the hybrid virtual appliance, otherwise known as a network functions platform. Network functions platforms provide the best of both worlds, bridging the gap between the performance of purpose-built hardware appliances and the agility of software virtual appliances.

In essence, the network functions platform is a mash-up of a virtualized server and a dedicated appliance. It could also be thought of as a virtual server on steroids. The platforms typically leverage an open-source hypervisor; however, they employ specialized components and an architecture that is purpose-built for networking and security functions. To ensure guaranteed performance and higher levels of performance in virtualized environments, the platform assigns dedicated resources such as CPU, SSL cores, memory and interfaces for each virtual machine (VM). In addition, dedicated resources are allocated for hypervisor management in order to eliminate VM contention.  

In order to truly deliver the best of both worlds, network functions platforms address both performance and the need for software-defined service chaining capabilities. In addition, they are designed to be open and capable of supporting virtual ADC, SSL VPN, WAF, DDoS NGFW and other functions from any networking and security vendor. 

While virtual network functions will continue to grow in 2017, the year will also be characterized by new deployment models such as the network functions platform that address current challenges and set the stage for continued and accelerated NFV growth in the coming years.


About the Author

Paul Andersen is the Director of Marketing at Array Networks. He has over 17 years' experience in networking, and has served in various marketing capacities for Cisco Systems, Tasman Networks and Sun Microsystems. Andersen holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing from San Jose State University.

Paul Andersen 

Published Monday, January 09, 2017 9:04 AM by David Marshall
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