In the span of just over one year “Network Functions Virtualization” (NFV) went from a non-existent term to a dominant theme at Mobile World Congress. For a trend to skyrocket from absolute obscurity to being showcased at the world’s largest networking show is a very rare phenomenon.
There is only possible driver for such an explosive new interest: strategic business value. NFV addresses a critical set of business issues that have been building for years: Service Providers are in urgent pursuit of an order of magnitude improvement in service agility and infrastructure economics. This is a multifaceted need driven by new competitors for Cloud Services, the video-
driven explosion in wireless data, the consumer value associated with Web 2.0 platforms, and the continued pricing pressure as new services rapidly commoditize.
The importance of Intel to the NFV movement cannot be overstated. At the root of agility and economics is an open ecosystem system of software with a common, powerful, highly economical hardware platform to leverage. The hardware must be able to be delivered in a variety of form factors given the wide variety of network infrastructure that exists, but it’s crucial that there be an architectural similarity in order for the software ecosystem to thrive.
One can only imagine the immense amount of R&D required to adapt the standard x86 architecture in ways that make it become an ever-better packet processor. This is where Intel leverage comes in with their significant investment in R&D. Considering Intel’s spend is quite focused, and contrast that to infrastructure vendors who must allocate their precious R&D across a wide range of product lines for both hardware and software development, it becomes fairly easy to forecast outcomes.
I’m not sure when Intel began this strategic vector. I do recall our first meetings between Intel and Vyatta (now a Brocade product line) back in 2007, and it quickly became clear to us that we had made the hardware architecture choice. In the timeframe from 2010 to today the packet throughput on an Intel-powered 2-socket server has improved more than 1,000X.
This is the quiet power plant behind the NFV movement. As the standard Intel-based server has become more and more network-centric Service Providers are beginning to deploy substantial parts of their infrastructure on these open alternatives.
Brocade is taking an aggressive posture in this new world through a close multi-year collaboration with Intel. The focus has paid off with a wide variety of operational deployments in Cloud SPs around the world, and the Telco SPs are hot on their heels with a much larger definition of pursuit through the ETSI NFV working group.
As the nearly 100,000 attendees of Mobile World Congress manage their way through the show floor and meetings in Barcelona this year, one thing is certain: Everywhere they look they’ll see NFV.