Moving from appliances to virtual network functions (VNF)

Physical routers, firewalls and application accelerators are going virtual.

Traditionally, if you were adding capacity to your network – maybe to bring a new branch online, support an expanded workforce, or just to handle greater demands on data – you’d probably need to procure some hardware: routers, firewalls, accelerators and so on. Then you’d need someone to install and maintain it all. That would take considerable time, capital and resources.

Now, though, we’re beginning to move to a world where all that can be achieved with a few mouse clicks. While network virtualisation isn’t yet as widely deployed as virtualised compute and storage, networking is finally set to become the last major pillar of IT to benefit from the virtualisation revolution.

The technology is now moving beyond the big service providers’ servers where it began life. VNFs replicate specific network functions that previously sat on individual, proprietary hardware boxes and would have traditionally had to be accessed and configured manually. But as virtual functions they can reside on an x86 device in your premises, or even in a cloud datacentre somewhere.

What’s driving interest in network virtualisation technology is the benefits it promises.

First, it gives large businesses far more flexibility to deploy, modify and scale networks as and when needed, without having to worry about purchasing, installing and configuring new hardware every time. We’re not at the stage of true ‘on demand’ networking in the cloud yet...but that will come as the technology and providers’ offerings mature.

Second, since VNFs are software-based, you can begin to orchestrate and automate network design, deployment, management and security, all through a central console or portal, either managed in house or by a trusted partner.

The prospect of centralised network security orchestration is particularly appealing, turning on its head the perception among security teams in particular that new technologies always add to their woes. In the case of VNFs, security can be both more robust and easier to manage.

As with any maturing technology, though, you don’t want to race ahead on your own and potentially lock yourself into systems and providers that may not be able to support your needs going forward. By working with us, we let you combine VNFs from many different providers and we operate them all as a single system. We also have plenty of experience running VNFs in our own datacentres, as well as deploying and managing them for customers. And we’re just a call or click away if you want to pick our brains.

"The technology is now moving beyond the big service providers’ servers where it began life. VNFs replicate specific network functions that previously sat on individual, proprietary hardware boxes and would have traditionally had to be accessed and configured manually."

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