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Open source unlocks door to more flexible NFV

Posted: 09 May 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:network function virtualisation  NFV  OPNFV  software 

The concept of network function virtualisation (NFV) technology has brought new meaning to the term 'network'. Nowadays, networking and computing are becoming increasingly merged. This has enabled a shift from a closed, fixed-function box-and-wires to an agile and flexible network described by software and virtual functions.

NFV shifts network functions from the network's hardware into virtualised software. But to truly succeed, NFV must be distributed and accelerated throughout the network, with solutions deployed at all network points: cloud, edge, access and premises.

To accelerate introduction of NFV products and services, The Linux Foundation hosts the collaborative Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) project. This open-source project is a flexible carrier-grade platform bridging networking and computing. Its three key attributes ensure that OPNFV is the optimal platform for NFV deployments throughout the network: openness, customisation and speed.


By its very nature, OPNFV promotes openness. It's an open source platform, which allows anyone in the community to participate in its development. Being open source also means that the platform is flexible, which prevents vendor lock-in. A platform flexible enough to work with a variety of hardware and software is a platform that allows operators to build their network exactly as they wish to, picking and choosing the best hardware, rather than going with a single vendor because that's what's compatible with what already exists.

Sam Fuller

Figure 1: Fuller: NFV must be distributed and accelerated throughout the network.

The many people involved in an open source project also increases the security of the platform. Security by obscurity has been proven to be inferior to security by design. With an open-source platform, there are so many people looking at the platform that any bugs, vulnerabilities or other security concerns can be quickly identified and fixed.

The Openness of OPNFV also provides the important benefit of allowing support for alternative processing architectures. Networking equipment has traditionally been based on non-x86 computing architectures. One of the major concerns about the NFV movement has been that it could cause the networking industry to rely on a single vendor for processing solutions, leaving too much control with a single company. OPNFV as an open source project opens the curtains to architectural innovation and the use of other architectures, such as the ubiquitous ARM architecture, as multi-source alternatives to products based only on Intel processors.


Despite, or perhaps because of, its openness and flexibility, OPNFV also preserves the ability to build custom solutions on top of it. These custom solutions are the ones that will bring NFV technology to every network node, ensuring that the flexibility, programmability and agility of NFV are realised throughout the network, which in turn guarantees that NFV reaches its full potential.

Of course, this also opens the door to alternative suppliers. By providing a software base to develop on, OPNFV makes it easier for smaller companies or those new to the market to bring fully developed and innovative solutions to the fore, increasing competition and promoting survival of the best solutions.

Development speed

Because it creates a software base to develop on top of, OPNFV also makes it much faster to bring a fully developed solution to market, regardless of whether the vendor is an established player or a market newcomer. The problems that must be solved by software today are far too big for any single company to solve alone. OPNFV drastically reduces the time to market by bringing the best and brightest minds in the community together to solve these issues, instead of leaving each company's experts to work on the problems in silos.

Overall, OPNFV enables distribution and acceleration of NFV solutions throughout the network in a standardised, and therefore compatible, manner. It is enabling a different way to think about the network. It's no longer about just the box or just the computing, it's about creating an intelligent, flexible cloud-based network to truly capitalize on NFV's benefits.

- Sam Fuller

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