Network Functions Virtualization Has Over-Promised and Under-Delivered

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Network functions virtualization (NFV) has been a fairly popular buzzword in the world of tech over the last few years. The idea of enabling network functions to run on commodity servers is compelling for a number of reasons, so it is easy to see why. Unfortunately for proponents of NFV, it hasn’t lived up to the hype thus far. In fact, at a Digital World Transformation 2018 event, Ibrahim Gedeon, the CTO of Telus (a company with big plans for NFV), acknowledged that NFV has yet to live up to early expectations. Gedeon cited high software maintenance costs as the root cause of the failures to date.

This is just one example of how NFV has failed to deliver value in the real-world. What on paper seemed to be a good idea has turned out to be an inefficient and disjointed mess. Fortunately for enterprises, there is a means to virtualize network functions while reducing cost and complexity today, it just isn’t NFV. Network Cloud Functions (NCFs) are able to deliver value today by abstracting away complexity and avoiding the high costs and complexities of NFVs. One of the most prominent examples of NCFs being used to deliver value to enterprises can be found by examining how SD-WaaS or SD-WAN as a Service is changing how enterprises approach WAN connectivity.

In this piece, we’ll explore where NFV missed the mark, explain how NCFs deliver where NFVs failed, and dive into some of the practical benefits of NCFs to the modern enterprise WAN.

Why didn’t Network Functions Virtualization deliver?

The high costs of NFVs make them impractical, and this has significantly hamstrung adoption. However, to say cost is the root cause of the failure of NFVs to deliver on their promise is missing the point. NFVs have some deeper fundamental problems, high costs are just a symptom of these problems.

The fundamental flaw in NFVs today is that integration simply isn’t streamlined enough. While NFVs can eliminate the need for proprietary hardware, it simply moves the paradigm from proprietary hardware from different vendors to proprietary software from different vendors. As a result, deployments of NFVs are still hard to manage and significantly complex. With a heterogeneous mix of appliances and no single common way to manage them at scale, NFV simply can’t deliver the scalability or ability to automate enterprises’ demand. What’s worse, the mixed bag of appliances comes with a mixed bag of software licenses that lead to the aforementioned cost issues.

In short, NFVs suffer from lack of standardization, complex and disjointed deployment models, and high costs. Not a recipe for success.

How do NCFs succeed where NFVs failed?

So what makes NCFs different? Why are they able to deliver value to enterprises today? The answer lies in the fact NCFs are natively built for the cloud and designed to maximize the benefits of cloudification and the aaS models that have been so successful over the last decade. As opposed to a complex web of proprietary appliances, enterprises can leverage holistic, cloud-based solutions that abstract away complexity and deliver services in scalable and secure fashion.

To exemplify the benefits of NCFs vs NFVs, consider a routine process such as applying updates to a firewall. With multitenant NCF, one update takes care of the entire network. With NFVs, each individual firewall needs the patch to be applied. Doing this at scale for each network function can become a significant operational burden can lead to wasted time, unpatched appliances, and potential security risks.

The benefits of NCFs & cloud-native SD-WAN

To truly understand the value NCFs bring, consider SDWaaS, a cloud-native form of SD-WAN built using NCFs. SDWaaS ties together a myriad of different NCFs (firewalls, routers, etc.) and provides enterprises with a single scalable solution where everything works together seamlessly.

With SDWaaS, enterprises get the Policy-based routing (PbR) features they expect from SD-WAN along with a baked-in network security stack, traffic shaping features, network monitoring, failover, and more. As opposed to putting together a patchwork of discrete software appliances like they would with NFVs, enterprises can use SDWaaS to solve their WAN challenges in an elegant, scalable, and simple way. By coupling NCFs with an SLA-backed global private backbone, SDWaaS creates a value proposition for enterprises that is hard to ignore.

NCFs deliver results while NFVs fail to live up to the hype

As we have seen, NFVs have been heavy on promise and potential, but light on delivering results. The problem with NFVs is they simply don’t move enterprises away from the complexities and costs of proprietary appliances, they just shift those complexities and costs from hardware to software. NCFs on the other hand succeed in abstracting away complexity and reducing costs.

This is particularly evident when you consider SDWaaS. By packaging everything the enterprise needs for a secure, scalable, flexible and reliable WAN, SDWaaS and NCFs deliver results while NFVs struggle to find a practical niche.

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