Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is the concept of being able to programmatically enhance/modify the functionality of a network. You can think of NFVs as virtual appliances that you program into a network to inject various services. Some of the primitive NFV concepts rely on static capabilities such as firewalling, NATing, DHCP and static route/path selection. The network admin can push these capabilities onto the physical appliances implementing the NFV within an SDN (Software Defined Network) architecture. These rudimentary NFV concepts are valuable for managing and configuring the network, both within a data center, as well as for external WAN networks.
One crucial difference between data centers and WAN networks is the fact that in data centers the connectivity within the data center is rarely the bottleneck. Unless the LAN network is misconfigured, the virtual and real appliances within the data center have access to practically unlimited connectivity between them. However, for Wide Area Networks, i.e. for the IP pipe that connects the office to the cloud, the situation is very different. Here, the connectivity is almost always limited and therefore often creates a performance bottleneck for the services. This WAN performance bottleneck is drastically different than the Local Area Network (LAN) within the data centers, and therefore, requires a different perspective on the NFVs that can address this issue.
NFVs that can address WAN performance problems are fundamental for SD-WAN routers to be able to provide optimum application and service performance. Depending on the application and service, this means that sometimes the NFV may need to have agile algorithms to optimize traffic flow against latency, throughput, jitter and/or packet-loss, while other times the NFV must provide network monitoring capabilities, including the time series histories of any or all of those metrics. This opens up a tremendous set of benefit that NFVs can provide for enterprise branch office networks, by utilizing NFVs to build the living and breathing WAN network that can proactively solve networking problems, before they have a negative impact on network performance.
Bringing together sophisticated and algorithmically complex NFVs in a user-friendly graphical user interface is where software defined networking shines. Depending on the application portfolio (potentially changing over time, even during the day) and WAN transport characteristics (again, changing over time, even during the day), a set of NFVs that can work around networking problems, prioritizing and switching transports in real time, can bring together a branch office WAN network that has built-in resiliency and per-flow performance optimization.
Cahit Akin, CEO, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of SD-WAN (Software Defined WAN) and NFV solutions capable of Broadband Bonding that enables self-healing WAN networks that route around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss.