Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

How NFV Can Revitalize the VAR Business Model

Up until now, NFV adoption mostly was driven by major telcos.

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Network functions virtualization (NFV) is showing signs of healthy growth. A report from ABI Research forecasts that the global NFV market will be worth $38 billion by 2022. Sales of hardware – such as servers, switches and storage devices – will gradually decrease; software will grow at a rate of 55 percent.

Up until now, NFV adoption was mostly driven by major telcos. Although uptake by enterprises has been slower, this is starting to change as customer IT teams recognize the business and operational benefits that NFV can offer.

This also means good things for the channel as partners begin to add NFV and NFV-like offerings. In the past, VARs tended to sell networking and security solutions like ADCs, NGFWs and WAFs as hardware-based, single-function appliances. This option offers the best possible performance and throughput, but it lacks agility and the ability to scale as needed to support business growth. Virtualized versions of networking and security products are available too; however, while they offer improvement in agility and scalability, because they typically run on commercial, off-the-shelf hardware, their performance is much lower than respective physical appliance counterparts.

Enter NFV. Network functions virtualization addresses the performance, agility, scalability and robustness shortfalls of the previously mentioned options; however, it hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the enterprise, which also has an impact on the channel. This is mostly due to IT leaders’ concerns about organizational disruption, potential skills deficits and frankly, partners’ inability to clearly define ROI.

To help push adoption forward once and for all and provide new opportunities in the channel, there is a new class of NFV-like products, comprising NFV platforms or virtualized/multi-tenant appliances. This option has the potential to help enterprises address their main concerns with NFV adoption and ameliorate some drawbacks of both dedicated and virtual appliances running on commodity hardware.

NFV platforms automate the complex configurations required by NFV so that any partner or IT team – be they networking, server or virtualization focused – can deploy networking and security functions with little training needed. With a simplified interface, it also simplifies the creation of service-chaining, for example, one or more ADC instances of load-balancing traffic across multiple WAF or NGFW instances. Performance is guaranteed through dedicated resources (memory, I/O, SSL and compute) for each instance/function/virtual appliance, and the “hypervisor tax” is minimized by providing separate resources for hypervisor overhead.

In addition, by focusing on a narrower use case – networking and security functions central to supporting the performance of business-critical applications – the ROI and TCO of NFV become much easier to calculate.

NFV platforms, whether open or proprietary, could be the first step in achieving widespread enterprise adoption. They’re sure to be an important stepping stone for VARs to pave the way for wider NFV deployments. And, NFV platforms can be used in the channel by partners to sell to their customers, but also to use internally if they are evolving to offer hosted networking services.

Other benefits include agile, on-demand provisioning of services, quick repurposing of resources to support new or changing customer requirements, easier remote management, reductions in space, power and cooling costs, and support for SLAs in multitenant environments.

Based on these benefits and others, we can expect to see a mix of the channel selling and hosting services.

Some open platforms are vendor-neutral, so VARs affiliated with almost any networking, security or application delivery provider can benefit from the advantages highlighted above. Keep an eye on plugfests, like those held by ETSI, for the latest on interoperability.

Customers can stick with the best-of-breed vendors they trust, and partners can build solutions around the vendors already on their line card. It’s a win-win.

Partners agree on NFV as a viable solution — Channel Partners recently ran its own mini survey and asked its audience, “What’s the next big ‘software-defined’ sales opportunity?” By a wide margin, the survey respondents chose “NFV to replace hardware firewalls, load balancers and edge devices.” As we jump into a new calendar year, the channel should consider NFV and NFV-like solutions such as NFV platforms for new revenue opportunities and customer retention.

Paul Andersen is Array Networks’ vice president of sales for North America. He brings more than 20 years of high-tech industry experience to his role. Most recently, he has served for more than 10 years as senior director of marketing for Array, leading critical positioning, sales generation and other marketing efforts as well as sales training and partner marketing, enablement and management.

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