Cisco Systems and EMC are looking to give service providers the infrastructure resources they need to embrace network virtualization as they try to manage the emerging challenges brought on by such trends as mobile computing, the Internet of things, security and the cloud.
At the Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2016 show Feb. 24, the two companies unveiled their respective network-functions virtualization (NFV) infrastructure offerings that officials with both vendors said will give service providers and telecommunications companies the physical and virtual foundations they need to transform their networks.
"Communications service providers are seeking to replace dedicated network appliances with a software-defined, multitenant NFV infrastructure that can host any VNF [virtual network function] from any vendor, and support a mix of proprietary and open source virtualization platforms and management [and] orchestration technologies," Anton Prenneis, telecom transformation technology architect at EMC, wrote in a post on the company blog. "The primary drivers for this move to NFV are the desire to avoid supplier lock-in, reduce OPEX [operating expenses], and deploy new services in areas such as digital [and] media, mobile applications, and IoT."
Service providers need networks that are more agile, more affordable and easier to program than traditional infrastructures so they can more quickly develop and deliver services to customers and open up new sources of revenue. NFV and software-defined networking (SDN) help do this by removing the network control plane and network functions—including routing, load balancing, and intrusion detection and prevention—from the underlying hardware and putting it into software that can run on less-expensive commodity systems, such as x86 servers or white-box switches.
Service providers are making a push in that direction. According to a report by Research and Markets in December 2015, service provider investment in SDN and NFV will grow to more than $20 billion by the end of 2020.
Cisco and EMC are looking to be the vendors that supply the tools to help service providers build those new network infrastructures.
At MWC, Cisco officials unveiled its NFV Infrastructure solution, which provides all the compute, storage and networking products needed to run NFV services. The new offering also complements other Cisco solutions, including its Virtualized Packet Core, which delivers network functions as virtualized services. The VPC also combines mobile packet cores services for 4G, 3G, 2G, WiFi and small cell networks into a single offering, officials said.
The Cisco NFV Infrastructure solution provides carrier-grade performance, availability, security and scalability, is fully integrated and tested, and can reduce the network total cost of ownership by as much as 40 percent through its automated lifecycle management capabilities. That includes improved security for OpenStack and Linux, a validated and tested design that reduces the time for system deployments to three weeks, and simplified tech support.
For its part, EMC is rolling out its Provider Cloud System (PCS), a reference architecture that is based on NFV industry standards and uses virtual infrastructure management technologies from VMware. It includes an NFV infrastructure layer, advanced data and security services, and a management and orchestration layer, according to company officials, who also promise a 60 percent reduction in total cost of ownership.
The PCS architecture, which is available now, is modular in design, scaling from a single node to larger distributed environments, due to software that can cluster server, storage and networking into a single platform that hosts VNFs. The infrastructure uses standard x86 hardware, open standards for integration and API instrumentation, and management and orchestration software that enables users to provision disparate NFV infrastructure personalities that can support a variety of VNF workloads.
In his blog post, EMC's Prenneis noted that at last year's MWC, EMC officials said the company would begin supplying NFV solutions to communications service providers. Over the past year, it became clear that some service providers are approaching NFV by either dedicating in-house development teams to long-term transformation efforts, combining open-source and homegrown technologies to develop their infrastructures. Others are deploying VNFs on preintegrated NFV platforms for faster deployment and easier operation.
EMC's PCS can be used in either approach, he wrote.
"The components of PCS can be deployed as building blocks by operators taking the do-it-yourself, bespoke approach, or in a turnkey, 'VNF-in-a-box' form factor by operators taking the incremental approach," Prenneis wrote. "The turnkey form factor can be thought of as a converged infrastructure system customized to a customer's unique workload requirements prior to being shipped from the factory."