NFV – virtualization of network functions – is one of the telecom trends that will expand with greater speed in the following years, and it is due to its tremendous advantages in terms of efficiency, economy, ecology, and security. It is, in short, a great project to replace, as much as possible and once and for all, the hardware devices that allow us telecommunications by software tools. This sounds too wonderful but it is a reality. In the future, routers will no longer be necessary as well as other devices, such as firewalls, and, instead, software programs will use a minimum infrastructure to make telecommunications possible.
This project mainly seeks to make a progressive transition from hardware to software, so that physical servers are – under ideal conditions – the only material devices that sustain the communications networks of the entire world. One of the benefits that this would mean is the significant reduction of production, maintenance, and energy costs related to the use of hardware devices. In addition, the updates would not lead to the need to replace some objects with others: the updates would depend on programming, on the creation of new algorithms. From an ecological point of view, this is a tremendous gain, since producing routers and other devices require the exploitation of oil and many types of minerals that are not only scarce in many parts of the world but also involve several environmental and social damages due to the needs of mining metals (such as copper, coltan, cobalt, and tungsten, among others.)
Moreover, this new system will end up being much more simplified and practical for network administrators, who will only have to be in charge of an operating system to coordinate the virtual devices that allow the operation of a network. In addition, these administrators could be software programs with artificial intelligence, which would make the processes much more efficient and controlled since each program can adapt to the particular needs of each network and operate with its full potential.
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It is important, however, to differentiate three concepts: software-defined networks (SDN), virtualization of network functions (NFV), and related virtual network functions (VNF.) The former is, in a nutshell, a process to completely dissociate the control plane and the data plane within a network with the aim of distributing the existing traffic. The idea of this is to create networks that are easier to program and manage, in part, because they are more centralized. On the other hand, NFV is, essentially, a process of virtualization that allows, in turn, a service that is better adapted to the needs of each network, as well as to the emerging and constant technological changes in the field of telecoms. This process requires highly sophisticated software tools called virtual network functions (VNF.)
The advantages of implementing NFV are huge and particularly attractive to the telecommunications industry. On the one hand, as it is mentioned above, this would simplify the network elements. The implementation process is much simpler, the modifications that are required can be done in a faster way, and without the need to manipulate or discard software devices. Alternatively, the new network elements are operationally much faster, more accurate, can perform many more simultaneous tasks, and, of course, do not depend on the short life of hardware (which, by the way, is exposed to damage by short circuits, among other hazards.) Even in spite of the great amount of work that they will have to carry out (mainly, due to the process customization,) the number software devices necessary to allow the operation of the networks will not have to be so high.
In terms of security, even though it is true that the current threats involving the use of our networks will be a problem less, in part, because users can customize the security settings of their firewalls without needing to call the internet provider, hackers will not disappear: they will just evolve somehow. New security measures will come up, and, of course, they will learn to violate them. People will think of new security measures, which will subsequently become outdated, and so on. That is the way it is.
Nevertheless, this project means that many people lose their jobs. Manufacturers of hardware devices will have to find another way to make money. Perhaps, one option for them is to start developing software tools that fulfill the same function. However, operators who work as network administrators could be replaced by artificial intelligence programs and this could mean an employment problem. Everything has its advantages and its disadvantages.
This technology will be tremendously beneficial for those who depend on fast and secure communications (banks, stock exchanges, and security agencies, for instance.) NFV not only makes processes safer and more efficient, but also saves infrastructure, energy, money, and technical problems that often occur when using hardware.