OPNFV director Heather Kirksey says that NFV allows service providers to take a Silicon Valley-approach to innovation.


Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) has been a buzzword for about five years.

Heather Kirksey, director for Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV)  at the Linux Foundation gave a recent interview to the “Women in Tech Show” that offered a primer on it and the impact it’s having on telecoms.

First, she gave her a definition of network services. “(They) are communication-oriented services that typically have network-intensive requirements (video requires bandwidth, packets need to arrive in right order, with the right quality); they make a demand on the network and require collaboration,” she says.

NFV, then, is the product of two big trends in the last seven or eight years: the rise of cloud offers the ability to deploy workloads on fairly generic hardware and scale out, rather than up, to handle more services. The scaling  can be done elastically and dynamically, scaling up when you need more and pulling back when you don’t, she says.

The other trend is software-defined networking (SDN), which decouples control of the network and how the network is managed, how traffic is routed among endpoints from the data plane or actual user traffic.

“NFV is taking those two trends and using them to enable moving away from proprietary network elements to treating all the things in the network as general pools of compute in order to enable network services,” Kirksey says. “Instead of all these special, purpose-built custom pieces of hardware you can turn most of that intelligence that lived in hardware into software intelligence and start treating the network itself as well as the apps an services as cloud software applications.”

The impact of NFV? “Increased agility. Less risk,” Kirksey says.

“Agility because the services are being re-architected with more automation and more similarities, instead of having to go into the command-line interface of a hundred different things to enable a subscriber to or a service you can enable these things the way IT professionals are used to enabling new applications on the network. It makes them easier to roll out.”

It also means you don’t have to put special pieces of new hardware in the network for new services, making it easier to try new things. It allows service providers to fail fast, fail often and scale up when you find something successful….and take  “that Silicon Valley approach to trying out things.”

“It’s really hard for service providers to do that right now, but if you’re using just software applications, you can upgrade and deploy or get rid of if they don’t connect with your subscriber base. You haven’t gone and put things in people’s sidewalks, dug for new cable or put special hardware that you had custom-built for that purpose. It really enables a lot more freedom, agility and flexibility.”

Catch the entire 36-minute interview — it also touches on containers, Kubernetes and OpenStack — on the “Women in Tech Show” podcast.

Cover Photo // CC BY NC