Sep 10


Both the Internet of Things (IoT) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) have had a lot of air-play recently, both technologies are evolving rapidly and both require secure, robust and highly scalable platforms and flexible management tools. While these two interesting areas of discussion are now becoming intertwined, questions are being raised about what really happens when virtualized hybrid networks start to support IoT services.

Network virtualization is where traditional dedicated network appliances (we used to call them network elements) are replaced by their equivalent functions ‘emulated’ in software and hosted in the cloud. This makes the network much more cost effective and highly scalable ‘on-demand’, because you can use cloud based computing and storage resources to build your network – along with a much more simplified physical transport infrastructure made up of interconnected routers which carry the data traffic.

Modules known as VNFs or virtualized network functions can then be ‘spun-up’ in a couple of minutes enabling new instances of network resources to appear, only when they are needed, thus avoiding costly, dedicated network nodes which are vendor specific and require more hardware, power and maintenance effort.

But, while all this sounds fantastic, it will take some time before service providers will have virtualized their networks. In fact according to some analysts it could take more than 10 years. In the meantime, service providers will have to deal with the challenge of managing a combined virtual/physical hybrid network during the transformation period.

On the other hand, IoT is all about connecting and managing devices over the internet and relates to the wider set of internet applications and services based on M2M (Machine to Machine) communications technology. It provides dedicated services such as the management of smart meters, connected buildings and vehicle telematics. While IoT uses a combination of existing network infrastructure, dedicated access networks and hardware devices, – security and reliability become paramount. Simply put, you just can’t afford to have the system which controls your car brakes and steering go down due to a network fault!

The question is, during the transformation phase while the physical network is being replaced with a virtualized network, will the hybrid network impact the growth of IoT?

In a recent webinar I joined last week called IoT: Building Mobile Networks to Maximize Opportunity, hosted by Light Reading, I put this question to the presenter, Peter Margaris, Head of Product Marketing, Service Provider Services at F5 Networks. Peter explained that we will not see 100% virtualized networks able to scale across all functions and all domains for quite some time. Certain network functions will need increasing levels of performance that will continue to require purpose-built hardware solutions with specific or custom high-performing semiconductor technology. So in fact the only way that networks will be able to scale to meet demand is to deploy hybrid networks where virtualization can be leveraged where possible and where purpose-built solutions can continue to provide the scalability and performance benefits needed for IoT applications.

So it sounds like the gradual introduction of hybrid virtual/physical networks will benefit rather than delay the evolution of IoT over the next few years. By introducing network virtualization in phases, where it provides the greatest benefits, while maintaining a mixed, hybrid network will ensure a smoother transition to a more robust and scalable IoT infrastructure.

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