What is VNF (Virtual Network Function) and Why Should You Care?
Data centers are going through a paradigm shift from a manually configured set of servers and storage appliances, to a software defined architecture, where the servers and storage appliances (virtual or physical) can be managed and operated via a software defined architecture. This means fewer manual errors, lower cost and more efficient ways to operate the data center. VNF (Virtual Network Functions) used within the data centers so far have been very rudimentary in nature, usually accomplishing relatively narrow tasks such as NAT VNF (Network Address Translation VNF), DHCP VNF, Firewall VNF, Server load-balancing VNF and others. In essence, these types of local functions that were previously done in hardware, now can be done via VNFs.
As an industry, as we implement some of the data center approaches to the WAN (Wide Area Networks), one must note that there is a big difference between the data center networks and the enterprise WAN networks. Namely, data center LANs (Local Area Networks) have ample capacity and bandwidth and unless they are misconfigured, are never the bottleneck for performance. However, with enterprise WANs, where the branch offices are connected to the Internet through WAN connections (MPLS, DSL, Cable, Fiber, T1, DIA, 3G/4G/LTE, 5G etc.), the choke point of the performance is almost always the WAN. Therefore VNFs that can address this WAN bottleneck have the opportunity to transform how enterprises connect to their private, public and hybrid clouds. VNFs that extend beyond a single location, but can still cover WAN networks, will have the ability to add programmability to the WAN. In a way, the “software defined” nature of the data center will be stretched out all the way to the branch office, including the WAN connectivity between them.
So, what does a VNF that is programmable and addresses the WAN bottlenecks look like? These VNFs are overlay tunnels that can perform certain flow logic and therefore can work around network problems on a per-flow by flow and per-packet basis. These VNFs are so smart, they have problem diagnosis, problem alerting and most importantly, problem resolution all baked into the solution. This is in stark contrast to the days without SD-WAN where an IT manager would have an urgent support ticket whenever a network problem arose. With VNF based SD-WANs, the networks are becoming smart enough to solve the problems proactively, in most cases, before they even affect the applications, services and the user experience. Stay tuned for our announcement tomorrow related to this paradigm shift, namely, VNF Design Studio.
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.