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Virtual Network Functions Going Cloud Native in Containers

Remember network functions virtualization (NFV)? It seemingly only just arrived along with other disruptive, next-gen networking advances like software-defined networking (SDN) to shake up the once-staid networking space.

The new network architecture followed the software-centric approach, virtualizing network node functions into discrete building blocks. It resulted in virtualized network functions (VNF), typically consisting of VMs running on servers or other devices -- or cloud infrastructure -- breaking away from tightly coupled hardware dependencies.

Now, VNFs are evolving to form yet another acronym, CNFs, standing for cloud-native network functions, according to non-profit, open source steward The Linux Foundation.

The foundation is trying to be a guiding force in the new age of networking interoperability and openness, overseeing organizations like the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) -- stewarding the popular Kubernetes container orchestration system among other projects -- and LF Networking (LFN), responsible for open networking projects including ONAP and OPNFV.

The Linux Foundation recently announced further collaboration between the two camps of telecom service providers and cloud industry leaders, and said that collaboration is fueling the migration of the short-lived VNFs (a paper introducing the concept was published only six years ago) to CNFs.

"As networks evolve to support next-generation services and applications, they will need to embrace characteristics inherent to cloud native architecture, such as scalability, automation, and resiliency," the foundation said in a statement last week. "Compared to traditional VNFs (network functions encapsulated in a Virtual Machine (VM) running in a virtualized environment on OpenStack or VMware, for example), CNFs (network functions running on Kubernetes on public, private, or hybrid cloud environments) are lighter weight and faster to instantiate. Container-based processes are also easier to scale, chain, heal, move and back up."

Spearheading that evolution are ONAP (real-time, policy-driven orchestration and automation of physical and virtual network functions) and Kubernetes, the red-hot open source orchestration effort making waves in the container space.

The Linux Foundation listed details about several projects it said were addressing the migration roadmap to cloud native in its news release last week. The group characterized the evolving VNFs-to-CNFs migration in the context of a larger innovation phase it calls "Harmonization 3.0." It said that effort enhances the open networking ecosystem by driving collaboration between edge and carrier clouds and enterprises, promising more information at an upcoming KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America conference in December.

"We have seen service providers embrace open source networking in large numbers," said Arpit Joshipura, general manager, networking, The Linux Foundation. "Benefits of virtualization and VNFs, coupled with automation platforms like ONAP, are now de-facto deployment models. As edge, IoT, 5G and AI start using these highly-automated cloud platforms, we are excited to see the best of both worlds come together -- the scale and portability of cloud coupled with the agility, reliability and automation of telecom."

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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