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Traditionally, network functions such as routing or load balancing are delivered on dedicated hardware. However, network functions virtualization, or NFV, delivers these types of network services on virtual machines running on industry-standard hardware.
Service providers, such as Telcos, are especially interested in NFV technology. But enterprises can reap the benefits of NFV, as well. The top three benefits of NFV include the following:
1. Use of standard, commodity hardware instead of dedicated hardware. The network functions run as applications packaged as virtual machines -- hence, they are called virtual network functions, or VNFs. While some vendors provide the option of running the network functions on the customer's choice of hardware servers, using the vendor's server is common, as it simplifies the process of qualifying the hardware and getting support.
2. Multiple functions in one device. Because the VNFs are virtual machines, you can run several functions on a single device, just like consolidating servers using server virtualization. Not only does this save on hardware costs, space and power, it also simplifies the process of wiring together different network functions, as it's all done virtually within a single device.
In contrast to consolidating VNFs on a single server, it's also possible to split the VNFs across different servers to gain additional capacity during demanding periods. That's the benefit of using virtual machines, as they provide the flexibility to run where you choose.
3. Flexible provisioning. Because the capability of the VNF is a virtual machine -- or a set of files -- provisioning and upgrading systems is easy. Many network devices can be upgraded by downloading files, but having much of the functionality performed in software separates the dependency on specialized hardware. Flexible techniques, such as Data Plane Development Kit, enable functions that previously required specialized hardware to perform in software.
These benefits of NFV are accentuated at large scale, especially for telcos. But large enterprises may behave like a service provider, if they have the scale.
Also, you don't necessarily have to intentionally purchase NFV-based systems. Many vendors provide devices such as branch routers with the functions delivered by VNFs, because vendors can benefit for the same reasons as customers. The takeaway is you should not fear using NFV, as you may already use it in some of your devices.