Terry Slattery
Terry Slattery, is a senior network engineer with decades of experience in the internetworking industry. Prior to joining Chesapeake NetCraftsmen as...
Read Full Bio >>

Terry Slattery | June 02, 2016 |


How to Simplify Branch Networks with NFV

How to Simplify Branch Networks with NFV Enterprise network functions virtualization, or NFV, can simplify the network design, deployment, and reduce costs at remote branch sites.

Enterprise network functions virtualization, or NFV, can simplify the network design, deployment, and reduce costs at remote branch sites.

Many enterprise organizations have a problem: the proliferation of networking hardware at branch sites. A typical branch site might have a mix of devices to provide routing, telephony service, security, wireless LAN control, WAN acceleration, and Layer 2 switching. Traditionally, each function requires its own box (oftentimes a simple, general-purpose compute platform that runs software implementing a function), resulting in high cost and long deployment and upgrade times.

Upgrading and configuring numerous devices at each branch consumes a lot of network staff time, and potentially requires the shipment of new hardware to each branch. Also problematic is getting new or upgraded hardware properly connected to the existing hardware and transitioning from the old to the new. Software upgrades are typically an all-or-nothing switch because the platforms often can only run one instance of the software at a time.

Can we change the process to make maintaining network functionality at a branch site easier?

The answer is, "Yes!" Turning these devices into virtual machine (VM) implementations is becoming commonplace. The obvious advantage is reduced cost and ease of maintenance. That's just the start of the advantages, as we'll see below.

Cisco's Approach
As James Sandgathe, technical marketing engineer at Cisco, described last month during a Tech Field Day presentation at Interop 2016, the best approach is to minimize the amount of function-specific hardware needed at a branch. Deploying the desired functions as VM instances eliminates the need for multiple hardware platforms. A virtual Layer 2 switch (VSwitch) implementation allows interconnection among the VMs, just as if the function was enabled in hardware.

IT gains a lot of flexibility with a VM-based implementation. In the DevOps world, where development is tightly coupled with operations, new instances of updated applications are brought up in parallel with old instances. IT would direct some application traffic to the new application instances to validate operation. If the application update is good, and works as desired, then IT would direct all traffic to the new instance and retire the old application instance. But if problems surface, then IT would redirect application traffic to the old instance and the application developers would correct the problems before retrying the deployment.

A software-only VM deployment of network functions facilitates a DevOps-style deployment model. The enterprise deploys a new chain of network functions on a hypervisor platform, using Open vSwitch to interconnect the virtual components. In the figure below, a physical network connection, eth0 (yellow), connects to ISRv (a virtual router) in the right-hand blue circle. Traffic routes to the vWAAS (virtual WAN) on the left, then via the ASAv (virtual firewall) in the bottom center to the branch inside network (red).

Virtual network with NFV

What happens when IT needs to update the branch or creates a new design that incorporates another function? It can create a parallel network configuration with the new components, using an ISRv instance to do policy-based routing of test traffic over the new, parallel configuration while the bulk of production traffic traverses the original virtual network. Testing can easily proceed, resulting in production traffic eventually using the new virtual network. When IT has migrated all production traffic to the new virtual network design, it can remove the original virtual network from the system.

Throughout this scenario no one had to visit the branch. With network functions virtualization (NFV), IT is able to use virtual instances of all the components except for the hardware that provides the hypervisor host and physical network connectivity. All the software gets sent over the WAN to the virtualization host.

But there's also a chicken-and-egg problem. We need a reliable way to establish communications with the platform used to provide network connectivity and to run the VMs. How does this communications continue to function should a problem with the VMs or their virtual interconnections arise?

Cisco's approach is to use a Cisco 4000 Series Integrated Services Router (ISR) with an internal United Computing System (UCS) E-Series blade server as the hardware platform for the VM hypervisor. The 4000 ISR already contains the functionality for remote deployment and remote access, and hosts a variety of interface cards for the desired network connectivity.

Through Enterprise Service Automation, Cisco supports automation provisioning of numerous virtual instances that run on the UCS E server. The virtual instances currently supported include a virtual router (ISRv), virtual firewall (ASAv), virtual WAN (vWAAS), virtual wireless LAN controller (vWLC), and a wide range of unified communications services like UC Manager and Unity Express. The hypervisor is based on Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM), so any compatible VM instance from third parties is supported. This might be some incentive for vendors that don't yet support the KVM hypervisor to update their offerings.

Use Cases
I was already aware of a financial firm's use case. This company has hundreds of branch sites and simply doing a security update takes it three months and one million dollars (that's right, $1 million). Use of Enterprise Service Automation, along with maintaining fewer hardware devices, will result in significant savings. Additional savings will come from the use of smaller hardware cabinets, reduced power and cooling, and being able to change the functionality without sending someone to each branch.

Cisco's Sandgathe provided two other interesting use cases. The first showcases the provisioning of services to multiple airlines within a single airport's physical infrastructure. It turns out that airports don't have a lot of space for things like wiring closets. So reducing the space to that of a single 4000 ISR is a big advantage. On top of that, the networking staff can configure multiple virtual instances to provide service to each airline in an area. As airlines buy and sell gate rights, the topology must change. The soft nature of the virtual instances within the 4000 ISR makes adapting to tenant changes much easier.

The second use case is for oil drilling rigs. This use case is obvious once mentioned. Updating network infrastructure on a drilling rig, especially when located offshore, takes a lot of effort and expense. Making most of the virtual elements greatly simplifies the task of updates and changes to the infrastructure. Adding a deep packet inspection utility to perform quality-of-service classification and marking becomes a much simpler task of adding the necessary VM instance and changing the connectivity to the desired packet flow. Once the 4000 ISR is in place, IT can implement new functionality over the network.

The UC Connection
What does this have to do with UC&C? This virtual network approach makes the implementation of a number of UC&C functions at remote branches easy to do. There's no hardware lock-in. The flexibility in available functions and the reduced cost for deployment and maintenance are compelling. This is a very exciting application of NFV that many enterprise organizations can use.


April 25, 2018

Yesterdays simple phone call to a contact center or business location is rapidly becoming todays interactive session, spanning multiple channels and devices. If you need to know how Omnichannel can

March 7, 2018

Video collaboration is experiencing significant change and innovation-how can your enterprise take advantage? In this webinar, leading industry analyst Ira Weinstein will present detailed analysis

February 21, 2018

Business agility has become the strongest driver for enterprises to begin migrating their communications to the cloud-and its a benefit that enterprises are already realizing. To gain this benefit

March 12, 2018
An effective E-911 implementation doesn't just happen; it takes a solid strategy. Tune in for tips from IT expert Irwin Lazar, of Nemertes Research.
March 9, 2018
IT consultant Steve Leaden lays out the whys and how-tos of getting the green light for your convergence strategy.
March 7, 2018
In advance of his speech tech tutorial at EC18, communications analyst Jon Arnold explores what voice means in a post-PBX world.
February 28, 2018
Voice engagement isn't about a simple phone call any longer, but rather a conversational experience that crosses from one channel to the next, as Daniel Hong, a VP and research director with Forrester....
February 16, 2018
What trends and technologies should you be up on for your contact center? Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center & Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2018, gives us the lowdown.
February 9, 2018
Melanie Turek, VP of connected work research at Frost & Sullivan, walks us through key components -- and sticking points -- of customer-oriented digital transformation projects.
February 2, 2018
UC consultant Marty Parker has crunched lots of numbers evaluating UC options; tune in for what he's learned and tips for your own analysis.
January 26, 2018
Don't miss out on the fun! Organizer Alan Quayle shares details of his pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon, TADHack-mini '18, showcasing programmable communications.
December 20, 2017
Kevin Kieller, partner with enableUC, provides advice on how to move forward with your Skype for Business and Teams deployments.
December 20, 2017
Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, shares his perspective on artificial intelligence and the future of team collaboration.
December 20, 2017
Delanda Coleman, Microsoft senior marketing manager, explains the Teams vision and shares use case examples.
November 30, 2017
With a ruling on the FCC's proposed order to dismantle the Open Internet Order expected this month, communications technology attorney Martha Buyer walks us through what's at stake.
October 23, 2017
Wondering which Office 365 collaboration tool to use when? Get quick pointers from CBT Nuggets instructor Simona Millham.
September 22, 2017
In this podcast, we explore the future of work with Robert Brown, AVP of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, who helps us answer the question, "What do we do when machines do everything?"
September 8, 2017
Greg Collins, a technology analyst and strategist with Exact Ventures, delivers a status report on 5G implementation plans and tells enterprises why they shouldn't wait to move ahead on potential use ....
August 25, 2017
Find out what business considerations are driving the SIP trunking market today, and learn a bit about how satisfied enterprises are with their providers. We talk with John Malone, president of The Ea....
August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.