NFV and How to Test It

November 28, 2016 by Jason Lackey

This is a special guest blog from the team at the Qualitest Group. Don't miss the 6 December Webinar we are presenting with them on...NFV and How to Test It.

NFV and How to Test It - Qualitest and Ixia WebinarIn October of 2012, a white paper's specifications first defined NFV, a technology promising to free network operators from the hardware and scalability constraints which has always been a challenge -- until now. But how does one test this non corporeal thing? Will NFV leap over your interoperability hurdles (yes, it will)? Want to know how to combine cloud and virtual testing with network testing?  

While NFV has the luxury of exercising functions within virtualization, we in the testing world, by virtue of being in the real world, must verify and validate its behaviour.  NFV is a network architecture concept that uses IT virtualization related technologies to virtualize entire classes of network node functions into building blocks that may be connected or chained together to create communication services.  This enables easy scalability down the line, prevents commitment to hardware manufacturer’s constraint decisions, and no longer ties us to equipment that will become legacy as hardware lifecycles shrink. 

NFV relies upon, but differs from traditional server virtualization techniques such as those used in enterprise IT. A virtualized network function (VNF) may consist of one or more virtual machines running different software and processes, on top of industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage, or even cloud computing infrastructure, instead of bespoke hardware appliances for each network function.  NFV is highly complementary and mutually beneficial to SDN, but they are not dependent upon each other, and can be virtualized and deployed without each other. 

NFV benefits include: 

  • Reduced equipment costs and reduced power consumption through equipment consolidation. 
  • Decreased Time to Market by minimizing the typical network operator innovation cycle, while removing hardware improvement from the equation. 
  • Network appliance multi-version and multi-tenancy reduces individual pay-to-play costs. 
  • Rapid scalability (up or down) is easy to achieve. 
  • Encourages openness and enables a wide variety of eco-systems. Easy entry opens the virtual appliance market to pure software entrants, small players and academia, encouraging more innovation to bringing new services and revenue streams quickly at much lower risk. 

Leveraging these benefits requires addressing the following technical challenges: 

  • Achieving high performance virtualized network appliances which are portable between different hypervisors/hardware vendors. 
  • Achieving co-existence with bespoke hardware based network platforms whilst enabling an efficient migration path to fully virtualized network platforms which re-use network operator B/OSS. B/OSS development needs to move towards NFV, which is where SDN can play a role. 
  • Managing and orchestrating many virtual network appliances (particularly alongside legacy management systems) while ensuring security from attack and misconfiguration. 
  • Automating all functions (thereby allowing NFV to scale). 
  • Ensuring high resilience to hardware and software failures. 
  • Integrating piecemeal hardware (including hypervisors and virtual appliances) from different vendors without incurring significant integration costs and avoiding lock-in. 

IXIA and QualiTest Group will be holding a joint webinar about “NFV Testing Methodologies, Services & Tools” on December 6 at 12PM GMT or 2PM EST, where we discuss NFV Testing best practices.