What Management Challenges Does NFV Create?
There is tremendous interest in Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) in large part because it holds the promise of enabling organizations to deploy new functionality in notably less time than it currently takes. However, no organization will implement a new technology or a new architecture if it can’t be effectively managed. With that in mind, I will use this blog to identify whether or not NFV introduces new management challenges and if it does, what are some of those challenges?
I recently published a report titled: Network Functions Virtualization: Operational Impediments. The report contains the results of a survey conducted in December 2015- January 2016. One of the survey questions asked the 144 survey respondents to indicate to what extent they thought that NFV created fundamental new management challenges. Their responses are shown below:
Perceived Extent of Management Challenges Posed by NFV
The graph above indicates a broad perception that the adoption of NFV creates new management challenges.
So, what are the new management challenges that are associated with NFV? In traditional networks, application software and network function software generally run on dedicated hardware that is statically provisioned by manual processes. A big part of the promise of NFV is that software running on virtual machines (VMs) can readily be moved among physical servers or replicated to run on newly created VMs in order to dynamically maintain availability, expand/shrink capacity, or balance the load across physical resources.
Ideally these changes in the infrastructure will be automated and programmatically activated to conform to configured policies. Due to the mobility of VMs, topology changes can occur in a matter of seconds or minutes rather than the days or weeks required for changing software/ hardware relationships in traditional networks.
In order to accommodate and leverage virtualization technologies, end-to-end management systems will need to be re-architected to be capable of implementing automated processes for virtual resource procurement, allocation, and reconfiguration in accordance with a set of highly granular policies designed to ensure the appropriate quality of experience for the user of the network services. Effective operations management will also require tools that give operators clear visibility into the relationships between the virtual and physical networks and their component devices. In particular, when performance or availability problems occur, both root cause analysis and impact analysis require bilateral mapping between the physical and virtual infrastructures.
In similar fashion, in a typical traditional network infrastructure there is 1-to-1 relationship between a network service and a set of dedicated physical resources. In a virtualized infrastructure a network service can be supported by a number of Virtual Network Functions (VNFs) which may be running on one or several VMs. A single VNF may also support a number of distinct network services. In addition, the group of VNFs supporting a single network service could possibly be running on a number of distinct physical servers. As a result, end-to-end management systems need to support a three-tiered network model based on many-to-many relationships among network services, the virtualization infrastructure, and the physical infrastructure.
The above is not intended to be an exhaustive discussion of all of the new management challenges that are associated with NFV. The goal of the above discussion is to highlight the fact that most if not all of the management challenges that are associated with NFV are a direct result of what makes NFV so appealing – that is enables the dynamic creation, movement and tearing down of resources. The management challenges that are associated with NFV can’t be met by the current generation of management tools and processes which were designed with the assumption that the IT environment was static. As a result, any organization that is heading down the path of adopting NFV needs to also be heading down a path of implementing new management tools and processes.
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