How NFV Can Help With Data Mobility

Arthur Cole
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It should be pretty clear by now that organizations without a robust mobile data strategy will not survive long into the 21st century. Handheld devices are quickly becoming the preferred means for people, particularly young people, to access digital content and services. What is not obvious is the impact that mobile applications have on the network, and how cloud technologies like network functions virtualization (NFV) can help.

The growth in mobile applications and data  is putting pressure on both wired and wireless infrastructure as the enterprise seeks to integrate these two worlds under a single management stack. Clearly, a more flexible, dynamic network architecture is in order, one that can support a wide variety of access methods, services and workloads and which can be dynamically configured and reconfigured to suit changing data needs.

The easiest way to do this is through software-controlled virtual networking. Through network functions virtualization (NFV) and software defined-networking (SDN), the enterprise gains the ability to push broadly federated, fully automated network fabrics across both local and long-haul networks, while at the same time laying the groundwork for emerging big data and Internet of Things functionality. But the enterprise cannot do this alone. It will require careful coordination with communications service providers (CSPs), telcos and other entities who will do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting virtual networks on both physical and virtual infrastructure.

The top challenge in devising these types of architectures is pushing network services close enough to the endpoints to provide superior service, but not so close as to inhibit the enterprise’s ability to leverage shared resources and other aspects of distributed data infrastructure. Everyone agrees that the closer you can place services and resources to the user, the faster and more responsive the network will be, but then how do you tie that environment back to the data center so users are not stranded in their own personal data ecosystems? At the same time, pushing entire compute environments to the edge can be expensive and difficult to manage, resulting in less-than-optimal performance for the user.

NFV solves this problem through its ability to dynamically change the function of network resources as needed. With it, the data provider can dynamically deliver services to the edge to accomplish all manner of tasks, driving the speed and innovation of the cloud out of the data center and closer to the user. This includes backhaul functionality so that the edge device can always reach back to shared, centralized resources no matter what services it is forwarding upstream.

An example of this functionality in action is the deployment of ADVA Optical Networking’s Ensemble Orchestrator and Connector in the DartPoints micro data center. ADVA Ensemble is a suite of management and orchestration products that gives CSPs the ability to deploy and operate virtual distributed networks quickly and on a variety of hardware and software platforms. DartPoints is using the ADVA Ensemble suite to drive advanced cloud services to its micro data centers that are located on clients’ premises. This allows DartPoints to overcome the distance, security and network performance issues that would otherwise hamper such a distributed architecture, effectively bringing the cloud to the enterprise rather than the enterprise to the cloud.

How does this support mobile infrastructure in the enterprise? Organizations can use NFV to push cloud capabilities to the cell station as easily as the data center or a remote office. By pushing some, but not all, functions to the edge, providers will have the utmost flexibility in balancing the needs of customers against the efficient use of resources and the mandate to keep costs under control. And when conditions change, virtual networks can change as well, quickly and from a remote management interface.

Data mobility is crucial to the enterprise, and virtual networks are crucial for data mobility. The era of staid north-south, point-to-point or point-to-multipoint architectures is quickly coming to a close. In its place will be a mixture of wired and wireless services, virtual and physical infrastructure, and dynamic mesh fabrics in which even the edge is no longer a clearly defined barrier between the enterprise and everything else.

NFV and SDN will ease the burden of this transition tremendously, but only if enterprises, service providers and carriers work together to build an integrated, dynamic virtual networking stack.

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