What the Cloud Transition Means for IT

Daniel Joseph Barry

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The Future of Network Appliances | @CloudExpo #Cloud #NFV #IoT #SDN

How to make Network Functions Virtualization work effectively so it will deliver on its promise

We live in a hyper-connected, mobility-enabled world, one in which carriers must make drastic changes to how they do business if they are to survive and thrive in the future. Accordingly, great strides have been made over the last three years to prove the viability of Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). Many Proof of Concept (PoC) trials have proven that workloads can be migrated to virtual environments running on standard hardware, and there are even examples of carrier deployments using NFV.

The next step is to determine how to make NFV work effectively so it will deliver on its promise. The issue is no longer whether a service can be deployed using NFV, but whether we can manage and secure that service in an NFV environment. In other words, the challenge now is to operationalize NFV. How can we ensure that NFV is ready for this challenge?

Network appliances are needed to manage and secure services - specifically, appliances that can monitor and analyze network behavior. A recent survey by Heavy Reading on behalf of Napatech called "The Future of Network Appliances" provides insight into how network appliances are being used today, progress on migrating network appliances to virtual environments and insight into the challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the success of this migration.

The survey found that 47 percent of respondents considered network appliances for network management and security to be essential, while a further 39 percent considered them valuable, reflecting a broad appreciation for the operational value of appliances. Survey responses also show that network management and security appliances are broadly deployed, especially for applications like network and application performance monitoring, test and measurement as well as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention, and data loss prevention.

Despite these findings, the survey also revealed that progress is being made in migrating network appliances to virtual environments, especially for the most widely deployed applications. Seventy-three percent of carriers indicated that they intend to deploy virtualized appliances over the next two years. Network equipment vendors are responding, with 71 percent indicating that they intend to deliver virtualized appliances in the same time frame.

Challenges remain with regard to delivering and deploying virtualized appliances. The top three challenges that respondents chose were interworking with other vendor solutions (81 percent concerned or extremely concerned), security (79 percent) and throughput (80 percent).

A surprising finding most likely almost presents the greatest challenge: the extensive deployment of 100G network data rates in not just the core but also the metro and, most surprisingly of all, the access network. Survey respondents were asked to indicate the most common planned data rate for the core, metro and access networks in 2018. The responses showed that 75 percent of respondents planned for 100G as their most common data rate in the core and 71 percent planned to use 100G in the metro, while 58 percent planned to use 100G in the access network.

These plans are ambitious and necessary, but they offer the greatest challenge when it comes to virtualizing network appliances over the next three years. The first 100G physical network appliances are just now being introduced to the market. They are based on standard servers, as the majority of physical network appliances are today. However, they rely on high-performance network interface cards capable of providing the throughput required at these data rates.

Even at data rates of "only" 10G, standard Network Interface Cards (NICs) cannot provide the performance required for these kinds of applications. Recent benchmark testing of NFV solutions, which are based on standard NICs, have shown that there are serious performance challenges in using these kinds of products for high-speed applications even when using Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) acceleration. Solutions based on bypassing hypervisors, such as Single-Root Input/Output Virtualization (SR-IOV), provide some relief, but come at the expense of virtual function mobility and flexibility.

In order for virtualized networks to operate successfully, effective network management and security solutions must be in place. These solutions will need to work at rates of 100G by 2018. This will require ingenuity, hard work and alternative NIC solutions in NFV deployments. Network management and security virtualized applications come up against the same performance issues as other virtual appliances at high data rates.

Network administrators have overcome this barrier in the physical data center; it remains now to apply these solutions to the virtualized environment to create operational NFV at high data rates.

More Stories By Daniel Joseph Barry

Daniel Joseph Barry is VP Positioning and Chief Evangelist at Napatech and has over 20 years experience in the IT and Telecom industry. Prior to joining Napatech in 2009, he was Marketing Director at TPACK, a leading supplier of transport chip solutions to the Telecom sector.

From 2001 to 2005, he was Director of Sales and Business Development at optical component vendor NKT Integration (now Ignis Photonyx) following various positions in product development, business development and product management at Ericsson. He joined Ericsson in 1995 from a position in the R&D department of Jutland Telecom (now TDC). He has an MBA and a BSc degree in Electronic Engineering from Trinity College Dublin.

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