White. Paper. The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization. Implications for I/O Strategies in Service Provider Environments.

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1 White Paper The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization Implications for I/O Strategies in Service Provider Environments By Bob Laliberte, Senior Analyst August 2014 This ESG White Paper was commissioned by Emulex and is distributed under license from ESG.

2 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 2 Contents The Changing Service Provider Environment... 3 Network Functions Virtualization Holds Significant Promise... 4 Implications to I/O Strategy... 5 Checklist for I/O Supporting NFV... 6 Next Steps... 7 The Bigger Truth... 8 All trademark names are property of their respective companies. Information contained in this publication has been obtained by sources The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) considers to be reliable but is not warranted by ESG. This publication may contain opinions of ESG, which are subject to change from time to time. This publication is copyrighted by The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc. Any reproduction or redistribution of this publication, in whole or in part, whether in hard-copy format, electronically, or otherwise to persons not authorized to receive it, without the express consent of The Enterprise Strategy Group, Inc., is in violation of U.S. copyright law and will be subject to an action for civil damages and, if applicable, criminal prosecution. Should you have any questions, please contact ESG Client Relations at

3 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 3 The Changing Service Provider Environment Technology is dramatically changing the service provider landscape. While voice traffic carried over landlines was the foundation for communications in the 20 th century, the new millennium has witnessed a dramatic increase in the volume of data traffic that service providers need to accommodate. In addition, the data traffic isn t being generated from static devices over wired connections, but rather increasingly from wireless mobile devices. Not surprising, when you consider the over two million smartphones and four hundred thousand tablets sold daily. 1 From a personal level, most can recognize that technology has crossed the chasm when their parents or grandparents start using a wireless mobile device. Because of this transformation, service providers are forced to re-architect the existing network and network services to accommodate all these data users. Service providers also need to consider that delivering a high-quality user experience will play a significant role in adding new customers and retaining existing ones. This means that both existing and new services need to be provisioned faster. In a legacy landline environment, provisioning services requires rolling trucks and technicians and could take days if not weeks. Today, users expect service in minutes. As a result, these service providers need to re-architect their network to create a more responsive and efficient environment. It needs to be highly flexible and dynamic, yet also provide the same or better level of performance and service. And at the same time, they must be cognizant of reducing CAPEX and OPEX where possible because the old days of monopolies are gone and this is a fiercely competitive market. One of the paths service providers are taking in this transition is to take more advantage of virtualization technology. This goes beyond simply deploying virtualized servers, and extends to exploring the use of virtualized network services, instead of custom hardware appliances, in the service provider space. The transition from hardware-based network services to virtualized network services is already underway and has been captured in ESG research (see Figure 1). 2 It is important to note that security appliances occupy two of the top three spots, and will play an important role moving forward. This chart depicts the anticipated drop in usage in the enterprise space of legacy custom hardware-based services. In its place, organizations are increasing their use of virtualized network services. Figure 1. Trend Toward Virtualized Network Services Please indicate which network tool(s) your organization currently has deployed as a physical appliance. How do you expect this to change over the next 24 months? (Percent of respondents, multiple responses accepted) Firewall Wireless controller IPS/IDS WAN optimization controller ADC/load balancer Network Packet Broker/monitoring NAC, Remote access control Web content optimization 35% 35% 33% 36% 35% 36% 40% 43% 41% 44% 47% 51% 50% 49% 55% 62% Expect to be deployed as physical appliance 24 months from now Currently deployed as physical appliance 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, Source: 2 Source: ESG Research Report, The Evolving State of the Network, December 2013.

4 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 4 Network Functions Virtualization Holds Significant Promise While some major networking innovations are gaining traction in software-defined networking, a group of service providers took this opportunity to re-engineer their network architecture to help overcome the problems associated with their legacy network infrastructure. 3 They refer to this new network architecture as network functions virtualization or NFV, and as its name suggests, its goal is to virtualize as many of the existing network functions as possible so they can be more easily connected or service-chained to deliver a service. Figure 2 illustrates the shift from legacy, hardware-based architecture to the NFV architecture. Figure 2. Concept of Network Functions Virtualization More specifically, the NFV architecture aims to: Source: ETSI NFV Whitepaper, Standardize on commercial off-the-shelf hardware. This will provide the opportunity for service providers to dramatically reduce capital and operating expenses incurred when buying custom physical network appliances. In exchange, service providers buy and stock industry-standard compute, network, and storage solutions that can be leveraged to host virtualized software-based network appliances. Leverage virtual services. In a rapidly changing environment, service providers need to be able to spin up or spin down services where and when needed. If a service provider needs to order equipment and roll trucks to install or decommission a service, it consumes valuable time and resources. Virtual services enable organizations to remotely deploy and decommission services without dispatching IT to install gear onsite. Keep in mind that a virtualized network service may require multiple VMs. Create a more open environment. Moving to a virtualized services approach running on industry-standard servers and infrastructure reduces vendor lock-in. Virtual services can be easily reallocated or replaced without significant disruption to operations. This will allow service providers to switch from one technology vendor to another and drive greater innovation through competition. Fundamentally change the way services are delivered. It is important to note that NFV will not only require new technologies, but also require a change in operations, culture, and skill sets. The old process will be replaced and new processes and skills will have to be developed. We have seen this transition before in 3 Source: ETSI Whitepaper, Network Functions Virtualisation, October 2012.

5 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 5 server virtualization and learned that this change is something that needs to be embraced. Service provider IT teams should begin to improve their skills, investigate process changes, ensure that monitoring tools will have visibility into these environments, etc. Deliver as much functionality as soon as possible. While NFV holds significant promise, it is not a panacea. Probably the biggest area of caution will be around performance. Hardware-based network service vendors have spent a lot of time and money to develop customized ASICs and hardware platforms to accelerate performance. In order to make this transition, service providers still need to validate the performance, availability, and reliability for all the different services being virtualized. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that some network services will be adopted more quickly than others. Implications to I/O Strategy NFV will impact many areas of IT infrastructure and operations; however, one area that should not be overlooked is the I/O. Because of its position and role in the infrastructure stack, it is important to think about the implications that the I/O technology can have on the effectiveness and efficiency of an NFV environment (see Figure 3). Figure 3. Role of I/O in Network Functions Virtualization Environment Consider the following areas that I/O can impact: Source: Enterprise Strategy Group, Performance levels. The I/O card is the gateway from the virtualized services to rest of the network, and as such, it is critical that it is not the bottleneck. Service providers need to understand how I/O technology has evolved and how new technologies can not only eliminate bottlenecks, but also improve performance. Keep in mind that performance will need to be consistent regardless of the server configuration, virtualization technology used, or services running on it, and low latency should be a priority. Service providers should understand roadmaps for and decide on the need for an Ethernet, Converged Ethernet, or FC networked storage environment, as well as the ability to perform advanced packet processing. The ability to remote boot. Given that service providers will be deploying dense industry-standard infrastructures at remote locations and want to have the flexibility to change these environments as needed, the ability to reboot the servers remotely via technology in the I/O card (leveraging iscsi boot) is critical. This will enable service providers to rapidly deploy or reconfigure services as needed from a remote keyboard and not by rolling trucks and deploying personnel onsite.

6 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 6 VM density. Given that these servers will be leveraged to support virtual environments, it makes sense to optimize the number of VMs that can be hosted. One of the ways organizations can accomplish that task is by using the processing capabilities on advanced offload I/O cards to offload I/O processing from the server, freeing it up to host more VMs. For example, I/O card CPUs could be used to host virtual switches and handle VXLAN or NVGRE support. This could also have a positive impact on power and cooling. The level of programmability or automation used. The networking domain is rapidly evolving to include more flexibility and openness by providing open API interfaces to enable organizations to drive more control and higher levels of automation. This concept is widely accepted for the network switch and router and should extend to the I/O interface as well. Visibility. These new NFV environments will be highly dynamic and heavily virtualized, which will also mean increased complexity and abstraction. Therefore, operations will need to consider how they will manage this environment and understand what role, if any, the I/O card can play in providing insight into these environments. Choice of virtualized environment. As service providers look to create open flexible environments, it will be imperative to standardize on technologies that provide the widest range of support for operating systems, virtualization technologies, and transport protocols. Without that flexibility, service providers could find themselves locked into one or have a limited choice of solutions such as virtualization software. Checklist for I/O Supporting NFV A poorly chosen I/O strategy could have an impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of an NFV initiative; therefore, services providers should consider the following checklist when selecting I/O technology to deploy as part of a standardized server package. It can be broken down into three areas of inspection. 1. Hardware Functionality (efficiency to improve CAPEX) a. Is the I/O card capable of offloading functionality to drive greater VM density per machine? This may include offloading VXLAN or NVGRE, or even hosting virtual switches. It also may require fewer servers. b. How will it perform? Does it support low latency converged Ethernet? Is it capable of supporting RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE)? Are 10Gb and 40Gb available with a roadmap to 100Gb connectivity? Higher capacity and performance may require fewer links. c. Does it have support for current and future investment protection? Can the I/O card support the current environment, including both storage protocols like FC/FCoE, iscsi, CIFS, and HDFS, as well as support for VMware, Microsoft, and KVM virtualization technologies? This will reduce or eliminate the need to forklift upgrade technology and will extend the useful life of industrystandard hardware assets. d. Is there support for advanced packet processing? Does it have the ability to deliver performance on x86 architectures? This will enable network functions previously running on custom ASICs and appliances to run on standard x86 servers by leveraging the Intel data plane development kit (DPDK). 2. Software-defined Capabilities (ability to lower OPEX) a. Is there support for network virtualization? This would enable operations to dramatically reduce network provisioning times and ongoing management. b. Are there open APIs? Does the ability exist to program the I/O card or does it have the potential for third-party applications to interface with the device through a well-defined open API? This may help to accelerate development and deployment of new services. c. Does it provide the abilities to leverage orchestration engines and to connect to OpenStack, vcloud, or CloudStack solutions? While open source solutions will help to lower costs, even vendor-based orchestration solutions can deliver value and help to lower overall operating costs. 3. Performance Management (visibility)

7 White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 7 a. Will operations have complete visibility up the application stack, including the traffic between VMs on the same physical server? The ability to detect and resolve congestion at these levels will be critical to ensure performance in an NFV environment. b. Is the ability to monitor network performance available? Highly virtualized environments depend on networked storage for many advanced functions, so it will be critical that operations can also see network performance. c. Does it provide end-to-end visibility? Is there the ability to see congestion at or from the other endpoint? Again, in a highly virtualized and networked environment, visibility is required to ensure performance. Next Steps NFV continues to garner media attention and vendors are touting NFV solutions. However, NFV is still a relatively new concept that needs to be proven in real-world service provider environments. To that end, service providers should: Evaluate existing technologies with the big picture in mind. As NFV technologies become available for testing, it will be important to test not only the network functions themselves, but also how they perform on a selected platform and interact with automation or orchestration engines. Organizations preparing to run proof of concept or pilot tests should ensure that they have dedicated sufficient time to evaluate the platform or multiple platforms to determine the best solution to enable a NFV environment. The evaluation, therefore, needs to include choices surrounding virtualization software, servers, I/O cards, network gear, storage, and even automation or orchestration engines. Understand the impact of each choice. Some things are easier to replace than others, and the choices made during the evaluation phase could have a lasting, positive or negative, impact on the NFV environment. Organizations can leverage the criteria outlined in this paper to help them select the appropriate I/O technology that best suits their current and future needs for performance, connectivity, automation, and virtualization. Ensure visibility. In a largely physical environment, the network connections tend to be fairly stable, with most changes being planned and documented. In a highly virtualized environment, change could be constant and the abstracted network connections could be difficult to manage. Therefore, it is worth calling out that when possible, operations should verify the ability to have complete visibility into NFV environments, ideally conducting visibility testing with the POC or pilot tests. The ability to monitor these environments will be critical to ensuring optimal performance and availability.

8 The Bigger Truth White Paper: The Rise of Network Functions Virtualization 8 In order to remain competitive, service providers have to transform from their legacy infrastructure to a more dynamic and flexible environment. In order to attract new and retain existing customers, service providers need to be more responsive to the needs of the market. In order to do so, a different network services architecture is required, one that enables them to conserve capital expenses, reduce operating expenses, and accelerate time to delivery. NFV is still early in its development, but it is helping to shape and drive this transformation. The concept of delivering virtualized services is shared with SDN, so many technology vendors are well down this path. However, there is still much to be accomplished before NFV becomes the status quo. Service providers are beginning to test NFV functionality in POCs and pilots to determine which functions can operate with the same level (or better) performance on virtual machines as on industry-standard infrastructure and which ones may require additional work. As this testing is taking place, organizations need to consider the functionality within the industry-standard infrastructure because some areas could help drive performance and adoption of NFV. I/O is one of those areas that could play a significant role. Implementing a solid I/O strategy as part of an NFV platform could further help to reduce CAPEX and OPEX and accelerate delivery. Leveraging advanced technology in industry-standard I/O cards can help to improve performance, accelerate adoption of virtualization technologies, and improve visibility. Given the investments that will be made and the potential benefits that could be derived, service providers should take the time to understand how the right I/O technology could help enable NFV efforts today and in the future.

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