Network Function Virtualization (NFV) – Myth or Reality?

Top of mind for most Telecom, Cable and Service Providers these days is Network Function Virtualization, or NFV.  Is it the elusive unicorn, never to be found?  Or, are the benefits real? What should a Service Provider be doing today – to achieve the promised benefits in the future?  Let’s take a closer look.

The Evolution to Network Function Virtualization (NFV)

Service Provider networks need to evolve toward an IT-like infrastructure to meet the needs of diverse applications and to compete with emerging competitors.  This requires a holistic storage, compute and network solution.

Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and its cousin Software Defined Networks (SDN) are the tools to make this transition, and they provide the following:

  1. Programmability of resources
  2. Open-ness
  3. Virtualized network functions for greater competition and operational scalability
  4. Multivendor/multidomain/multilayer control
  5. Abstracted applications for a faster innovation cycle

This is an evolution, not an overlay – a Service Provider’s embedded network infrastructure needs to coexist and migrate. For more on NFV and SDN I recommend reading my Stu Bennington’s blog, What are NFV and SDN, and why should I care?

Service Providers need to have options for in-house solutions (functionality and reliability) and also open source/ecosystems (abstraction = choice, COTS = web-speed upgrades and economies of scale).

In short, NFV dramatically changes a Service Provider’s network from a traditional architecture where hardware, storage and network infrastructure is bundled tightly with Network Functions – all provided by Network Equipment Manufacturers.


The architecture above provides an overview showing how Network Equipment Manufacturers offered complete racks of equipment to deliver a Network Function.


Figure 2 shows the NFV approach – enabling Network Functions to benefit from the same virtualization technology that has become commonplace in IT application architectures today.

Network Function Virtualization (NFV): Myth or Reality?

To answer this question, consider the following:

  • Many major Service Providers have selected an NFV architecture, are currently identifying key elements of their planned ecosystem and are conducting lab trials/proofs of concept.
  • However, an equal number of Service Providers are aware of the concept and potential benefits but do not have specific plans.

Furthermore, the target benefits of NFV implementation can vary significantly based on the answers to three key questions:

  • Which function / element do you virtualize? (drives potential CAPEX savings)Example: Router, Switch, EPC, RRH, Firewall, DNS, Management Systems
  • How do you implement orchestration in a multi-vendor, multi-domain environment? (drives potential OPEX savings)Example: Virtual CPE Service, Service chaining
  • Do you implement robust application-driven programmability? (drives potential new revenue opportunities)Example: VNF-FG association with dedicated bearers/QCIs, mobile video local cache

Dell EMC’s experience is that NFV is rapidly transitioning from Myth to Reality.  However, Telecom service providers may erroneously move through development of the technology without truly having a clear business case, leading to missteps, and delays.

How We Help

Dell EMC’s approach to helping Telecom service providers realized the benefits of NFV follows a pragmatic and business-focused path.  It begins with a Network and Services Virtualization Workshop.  This Workshop gets everyone on the same page with respect to NFV opportunities and explores initial use cases that are the highest priority to implement.

Next, we recommend an onsite test of NFV infrastructure technology coupled with at least one VNF vendor for the highest priority use case identified in the prior Workshop.

The final step in launching a successful journey to NFV involves developing a solid business case and ROI that can be shared with executive management.  The business case must take a holistic approach to Operating Expense and Capital Expense – not just an initial one time cost of implementing NFV.

Want more details on how to successfully begin your NFV journey from Myth to Reality?  Please contact me!

 Next Up:  NFV Operating Models – How to Mix Oil and Water (also known as IT Operations and Network Operations)

Also, make sure to check-out my recent blog series and whitepaper focused on NFV Deployment.

I hope you will join me and will pass on the link to your friends and networks. Please … subscribe, send me feedback, and check back for the next installment. If nothing else, I promise the Travel Tips will be extremely useful!

Today’s Travel Tip:   For those going to Mobile World Congress, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona makes a lasting impression on all who visit.

It has been more than 9 months since I visited the Sagrada Familia during Mobile World Congress in 2016.  It is a spectacular Basilica in Barcelona that was designed by Antoni Gaudi starting in 1882.  Construction has taken more than 130 years and will not be complete until 2026 at the earliest.  Art critic Rainer Zerbst said “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art”.

It continues to make a profound impression on me as I review my attempts to photograph its immense scale and beauty.  Anyone going to Barcelona must visit! More details can be found at  I plan to visit again during MWC 2017!


About the Author: Laddie Suk

Laddie leads a cross-functional Dell Technologies Consulting team focused on digital transformation and industry solutions. He is a seasoned industry veteran with deep experience across multiple industries, solutions, and technologies. As a former Verizon Network CIO and Network Executive at AT&T and Bell Labs, he has extensive hands-on experience in leading strategic network and IT development projects and managing communication service provider environments. He has also led strategic and tactical engagements in network transformation, IT transformation, and business process and performance improvement for clients throughout the Americas.