NFV’s Impact on the Future of Service Routers: Back to the Classical PE Router?

Glenn Hunt
Glenn Hunt

Summary Bullets:

  • The move to server-based network functions could have an interesting impact on the edge service router’s future role in the network; growth in router-based service cards will slow.
  •  This is potentially good news for an operator’s CapEx, but success will rely on effective service orchestration and carrier-grade implementations, and consistent performance will remain critical.

The industry has been immersed in deep discussions regarding SDN and NFV for the past several years; these discussions have now turned to multiple feature demonstrations, proof-of-concept (PoC) initiatives and a limited number of vendor/operator trials. What has not been widely discussed is the role that the traditional IP service edge router will play in this new world of centrally controlled networks and network applications hosted by generic servers (with generic still under debate).

Behind every technology transition, the existing network architecture will be impacted. In this case, as popular network functions such as EPC, BNG, NAT and firewall become virtualized and moved to servers, will the role of the service router once again return to that of a traditional provider edge (PE)? Obviously, there will be a transition period as well as a level of existing equipment reuse. However, this can have an impact on multiple product architectures, since some equipment vendors implemented service capabilities directly on their line cards, while others leveraged separate service engines to perform network functions. Moreover, there is the issue of performance: can the emerging server platforms deliver the same performance and resiliency as their purpose-built counterparts for not only applications, but also the data path?

Multiple vendors and network operators have participated in early technology trials, and the expectations remain high that NFV will deliver as expected. However, it is clear that moving from PoC/trial to full commercialization will take some time, given the need to retain quality of experience for end users as well as for new business models (both operator revenues and equipment/software pricing) to mature.

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