Virtualization, Network Style

In the computer networking industry, the latest buzzwords are to do with Virtualization. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is the latest trend and every day, there is a lot written about and talked about on this front. At a high level, it deals with virtualizing the functions that are today being performed by dedicated hardware components. For example, if you have a Wifi router device in your house today, the idea is to move that functionality on to your PC or laptop so there is no need for a separate device that performs that function. Or in a typical use case, the equipment on the customer premises (CPE) now moves to the Service Provider domain in a virtualized form where they can deploy multiple such CPE’s (in an apartment complex for example) in a single PC or laptop device.
Virtualization is probably known to all of us first-up, as Virtual reality. This link to Virtual Reality on HowStuffWorks probably explains it as well as any. While NFV does not have aspire to lofty intentions such as creation of a 3D simulated environment, it does look to move away from clunky old hardware by utilizing the advances made in semiconductor technology and the ability of modern processors and architectures. In the computer industry, there are functions such as security which are integrated with the hardware platform today. NFV aims to move these functions away from the hardware device, into a cloud based environment which will ostensibly make it easier to scale the systems. The driving force behind NFV is, after all, the boom in the data and video traffic over the past few years that is expected to sustain and increase over the next decade or so. Smart phones have percolated to such an extent even in a developing country like India that the statistic of more mobile phone subscribers than toilets may soon be replaced by, as many smart phone users as toilets! Apps on these phones are a dime to the dozen. Chatting apps and the ability to seamlessly connect to each other make the past where a long distance telephone call took days to connect seem unimaginable almost. The future is like a Black Swan.

In the past few years, there has been so much talk and implementation of new services such as SaaS (Software as a Service), IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) – it was only a matter of time before we offered NaaS (Network as a Service). The simplicity in setting up a Small Office by purchasing services from a cloud service provider such as Amazon has made it easier for tech entrepreneurs to make a start on their dreams. In this context, AWS (Amazon Web Services) has a good start in this market. By moving all the requirements for hardware devices from a small office to the cloud, the entire process of starting off a business is simplified to a large extent. Add to this, moving all the data center activities and the network activity as well to the cloud sounds quite appealing.

The future will see faster networks – data processing speeds may well follow a new law, similar to Moore’s law. He had predicted a doubling of processor speeds every two years. Data transfer speeds may well follow the same rule. Faster networks and faster processors make for innovations and in some cases, a return to old ways. In the old days, we studied about the dumb terminals which would connect to a computer server over the network. While the network speed was the bottleneck that caused the introduction of the Personal Computer, faster network speeds allow us to return to those days.

Residing in Bengaluru, I am a Techie by profession and a thinker and doer by birth. I muse about any topic under the sun and love to share my thoughts in print when I am not doing something with them. I love reading and at some point, thought that maybe others would like to read what I have to write, too!

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