The most prevalent use cases that F5 is observing in most of the POCs include VNF as a Service (VNFaaS) , Service Chaining, vEPC, vCPE and vRAN.  F5 itself is actively involved in VNFaaS, Service Chaining and vEPC use cases, in customer POCs.  VNFaaS includes Firewall as a Service, Load Balancing as a Service, DNS as a Services, Policy Enforcement as a Service, DRA as a Service and many more. 

Service Chaining is becoming the most popular and a well suited use case in enabling the service providers to effectively chaining multiple value added services to provide a revenue generating service to their end subscribers.  These service chains can be established on demand and can be dynamic in nature to be done on demand.  There are multiple approaches to service chaining – the two ways that are effective seems to be having a 'Meta header' and the other is to push policy at every VNF for next service treatment for the traffic flow.  There are a couple of standards like IETF NSH and Geneve being worked on by various vendor/communities and are rapidly on their way to being productized soon.  F5 is actively working jointly with vendors like Cisco and others on the NSH approach in IETF and you will be able to see a joint Intel/Cisco/F5 demo at the Intel Booth at Mobile World Congress.  

Cautious, Clever but Effective approaches to introduce NFV

Many Service Providers who want to embrace NFV and realize its full benefits are taking a cautious approach, but still finding clever/innovative and effective ways to introduce NFV into their networks.  One mandatory requirement for the service providers is that introduction of NFV in no-way impacts the operation of their existing network and does not disrupt/degrade in anyway the services and availability of the network to their subscribers.  With this as the main stipulation, many of the operators are deploying NFV in non-mission critical parts of their network and/service infrastructure.  We’ve seen this for example with some large tier-1 service providers who have introduced NFV network infrastructure to support emerging Internet of Things (IoT) business models which will not impact legacy network equipment that is supporting human paying subscriber traffic.  Some other operators are testing NFV to support Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) business models, where their legacy subscribers will not be impacted in any way from the implementation of NFV networks.  Yet many operators are still simply testing NFV in typical sandbox type environments where they will begin integrating with existing networks only after validating all the critical pieces. Even when it comes to the sandbox type approach, we are seeing testing with limited scope such as:  Virtualization of the Gi-LAN, virtualization of the EPC (vEPC), virtualization of enterprise CPE (vCPE), and virtualization of RAN infrastructure   There are also many control plane virtualization initiatives to introduce Virtualized Diamter Routing Agents (vDRA), vPCRF and other virtualized control plane network functions to support new services such as Voice over LTE (VoLTE).

Another important thing to keep an eye on is that many service providers are planning to test and deploy NFV together with SDN.  They view NFV and SDN as complimentary and believe that joint deployment will result in many benefits.  While they see NFV resulting in both Capex savings and enabling of rapid new service delivery, they see SDN as giving them significant Opex savings, and optimized utilization of network resources..  

F5 is well positioned to help service roviders address any or all the above scenarios with a full breadth of layer 4-7 solutions and ability to support a wide range of hybrid network architectures that enable operators to deploy both NFV together with SDN.

Oh, One Last Thing – Have you heard this new thing called Dockers (not Jeans!) - How will NFV be impacted?  

I am assuming many are familiar with the Containers/Dockers concepts.  This is the latest thing that is catching a buzz within the carrier community.  Some predominant tier 1s, especially in the US are considering NFV with Containers/Dockers instead of going with the Hypervisor.  As the ETSI/NFV-ISG envisioned in their standardization efforts, NFV is not limited to Hypervisors alone and could be implanted on non-HV based solutions as well – which is what many operators are on the verge of taking a serious look at the using the Container technology for NFV.  By using Containers (which is at times being inaccurately used synonymously with Dockers) the Service Providers plan to achieve greater savings in power, size and footprint of data center infrastructure..  The driver for the Containers seems to be to eliminate the need for the HV and the associated management infrastructure required to support the HV technology.  However, it would behoove the operators to be aware that there is management infrastructure like Dockers required for efficient implementation of the Container technology both in terms of management and security and also isolation of visibility into containers, since all of the containers work off the same kernel partitioned into several equal pieces.  

What Does Future Hold for NFV / What we expect to see at Mobile World Congress: 

As I stated at the beginning of this blog series, NFV is slowly but surely happening!  The operator, vendor and standards communities are working together to address the 'Operationalization' challenges of NFV to ensure gradual and successful deployment in the next 12-24 months.  We will see the existing POCs/Trials convert gradually into deployments in several segments of the operators’ networks.  We will see convergence on the orchestration technologies be it Openstack, REST APIs, etc. Many operators will continue to trial and deploy NFV for L2-L7 services and SDN for L2-L3 VLAN connectivity.  We also will buzz about 'Containers/Dockers' technology in reference to NFV in the coming year.  There will be comparison of Hypervisor and Dockers technologies and evaluations to this effect and operators will decide which would be their preferred approach to NFV. 

At the upcoming MWC, we will see how NFV is being introduced by various service providers across the globe and how they are addressing the Orchestration challenge.  Many vendors will demonstrate the customer sponsored POCs that they have already completed with other vendors under the ETSI umbrella.  The most popular use case we will see could be the Service Chaining based on NSH as will be demonstrated by Intel together with Cisco and F5.  Other use cases we might see will be the IOT/IOE related NFV use cases – like the Smart Car, Smart City, etc. IOT initiatives using NFV as the underlying infrastructure.  We will also see how open source technologies like Openstack, ODL are being used to orchestrate the VNFs.  We may see some early show casing of Container/Docker technologies in conjunction with NFV and SDN.  

Come and visit F5 at our booth while at Mobile World Congress (located in Hall 5, Stand G11) where we will be highlighting all of our solutions – showing how the breadth of these solutions can help service providers realize their Operationalization goals associated with NFV and stay ahead of the massive mobile evolution taking place.