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The Power of Two: NFV + SDN

Three ways Software-define Networking helps Network Functions Virtualization


By Yue Chen, Senior Solutions Marketing Manager, HP Networking


Yue ChenAt Mobile World Congress last week, the HP OpenNFV program got a lot of attention. Visitors packed the HP booth. Many savvy execs and architects from network operators and system integrators were asking a very intriguing question, “What do I get if I deploy NFV and SDN together?”


HP had a demo kiosk at its booth at Mobile World Congress that addressed this very question: “The Power of Two: NFV + SDN”.


Before I delve into the NFV+SDN question, let’s briefly take a look at them separately. Both NFV and SDN reduce capital and operating costs and speed up the rollout of new services. However, these two technologies approach these problems from different angles.


NFV was initiated from operators wanting to harness the software advancements for networking. Virtualizing the network functions and running them on standard hardware holds the great promise of having larger pools of fewer resource types, and achieving flexibility and speed of deploying the same hardware for different services. SDN, which was conceived in academia, separates the data and control plane, to create an abstract model with a RESTful interface for orchestration software and network applications to interact with the network programmatically. SDN allows for automated control and visibility into the network.


For some equipment vendors which charge a premium for embedded control logic, SDN threatens to devalue their networking devices. These vendors will argue until they turn blue that you don’t need SDN for NFV. Theoretically speaking that is true. The question is why not? With SDN becoming widely available and adopted, the power of the two working together is many folds more than when each is deployed alone. I will illustrate this with examples below.


First of all, SDN can provide benefits legacy networks cannot.  For NFV to work well, we need an effective way to steer traffic intelligently across a cloud of virtual service appliances while enforcing policies. SDN does exactly this, and provides service chaining, auditability and insurance of policy enforcement for services. It does this better than legacy networks, which requires inefficient centralized traffic redirect. The Cloud Burst proof-of-concept demonstrated by HP, Intel and Verizon is one such example.




Secondly, SDN-enabled virtual devices provide dynamic programmability for NFV. SDN-enabled virtual devices open up many possibilities. For example, SDN protocols allow virtual firewalls and load balancers to be modified dynamically and cooperate with centralized controllers to simplify operations.


Finally, NFV allows decomposing network functions and distributing them in an SDN enabled network fabric. With NFV, you can easily decompose network functions and implement them using the transport layer itself. This includes any kind of policy enforcement implemented at layer 2, 3, or 4, and distributed the components into SDN-enabled generic fabric. The result is the kind of efficiency not previously possible with physical network devices without SDN capability.


HP will soon release an SDN app called HP Network Protector SDN app, previously known to early adopter customers as Sentinel. This is a good example of using the network to implement basic IPS services across the entire fabric. In this app, some of the Virtual Network Function components are implemented as OpenFlow flow entries, distributed close to the users, and intercept DNS inquiries as soon as they enter the controlled network fabric, and undesirable DNS inquiries are promptly dropped or rejected. 



SDN can enhance NFV and unleash its full potential. Above are but three ways this can happen: SDN provides helper functions conducive to NFV’s needs, the SDN-enabled device provides dynamic programmability for NFV, and NFV applications can be decomposed and reconstructed efficiently and creatively within SDN-controlled network fabric. With the ways NFV and SDN are advancing, there will be many more ways SDN can help fuel the NFV revolution.


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