OpenStack and NFV, as explained by the OpenStack Foundation

This week the OpenStack Foundation released a whitepaper explaining the platform’s relationship with Network Functions Virtualization, or NFV.  NFV, a use case for Software Defined Networking, enables telcos and other organizations to replace specialized hardware with software-based Virtualized Network Functions (VNFs), creating a much more flexible system that enables more agility and control while reducing costs.

The paper explains what NFV is and why it’s important to the telecommunications industry, as well as explaining “Why OpenStack is ‘synonymous’ with NFV”.

It also explains how OpenStack is the infrastructure behind the Open Project for NFV (OPNFV), a Linux Foundation project meant to accelerate the development of NFV.  OPNFV uses OpenStack as the foundation for NFV, contributing needed features back into the upstream project rather than creating a downstream project of its own.  In other words, rather than creating an actual software artifact of its own, OPNFV concentrates on defining how existing projects such as OpenStack, OpenDaylight, and so on fit together, and filling any gaps that may prevent NFV from working properly.

NFV has been taking off in recent months, and is widely seen as the “killer app” for Software Defined Networking.  Already major telcos and service providers such as  AT&T, Bloomberg LP, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT Group, SK Telekom and Verizon have put NFV into place using OpenStack, according to the report.

The OpenStack community has several projects that figure into NFV.  Some, such as Tacker, a project that aims to create a VNF orchestrator, are specifically targeted at NFV environments.  Others, such as Neutron and Astara, are general networking services. Still others, such as Congress (Policy as a Service), Mistral (Taskflow as a Service), and Senlin (a clustering service for homogeneous objects) are general OpenStack services.  Even the OpenStack Compute service, Nova, has had multiple improvements that have been aimed at NFV functionality, such as NUMA pinning.

Some pundits are interpreting the paper to mean that OpenStack is abandoning its cloud focus to work instead on being a virtualization platform for telcos, but that’s not the case.  In fact, while the focus has been on telcos use of NFV, applications for the enterprise are also starting to emerge even in this area.  For example, Palo Alto Networks recently released the Palo Alto VM-Series virtual firewall, a VNF that provides extremely granular control over traffic between VMs within an OpenStack cluster.

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