With each day consumers and businesses are generating and using more and more data to operate their businesses, seeking information to make every day decisions, complete business transactions and to communicate with business partners, customers or family and friends. The increasing number of smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices, and the explosion of social media and video streaming are demanding more network communications and with it, operators are seeing increasing CapEx and OpEx costs of building and maintaining networks to handle the ever-increasing demand.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) are the latest approaches the networking industry has to help service providers and operators curb their network spending and introduce new services. Businesses are turning to NFV and SDN to:

  • Increase revenue though new revenue sources
  • Reduce CapEx and OpEx
  • Offer new services to their customers
  • Respond quickly to their customer demands

The Value of NFV and SDN

Operators and service providers don’t want to make more large expenditures on more infrastructure, especially at a time when more data centers are implementing cloud computing solutions. At the core of the infrastructure of many traditional data centers is highly specialized equipment providing only one function, such as routing or switching. Specialized equipment is more expensive than commodity servers, switches and storage as well as requiring advanced training for employees. Many of Northforge’s customers’ customers want to move to a more cost effective and flexible infrastructure, and they are interested and starting to invest in NFV and SDN.

Benefits of NFV and SDN include:

  • Virtualizes network functions to run as a VMs on cloud computing infrastructures
  • Enables rapid deployment, modification or turn down of a VNF leading to more orchestration and automation
  • Decouples network functions from purpose-built equipment enabling move to a simplified infrastructure
  • Decouples the network control plane from the data (or forwarding) plane

What are NFV and SDN?

Though sometimes lumped together, these are independent technologies that can interwork.

SDN is about separating the network control plane from the data (or forwarding) plane. Historically, network infrastructure equipment (routers, switches, load balancers etc.) have included both the control plane and the data plane in the same device. In recent years there has been an initiative to decouple the two planes so that the control plane can run on servers and, in theory, allows for more advanced and flexible manipulation of the network. Some of the major challenges being encountered in SDN are how to run in a hybrid network with non-SDN equipment; meeting the performance of specialized equipment; and how an SDN controller can replace many years of highly developed and tuned control plane software already running on non-SDN equipment.

There are commercial and open source initiatives in SDN at varying stages of development.

NFV is about virtualizing network functions (e.g. routing, load balancing, CDN, and many others) and decoupling them from specialized hardware to reduce costs and time to market. The virtualization and decoupling allows a network function to run on commodity equipment (compute, network, and storage) that, generally, is evolving more rapidly in performance and power efficiency than specialized hardware. One of the necessary components needed in the virtualized environment (x86 server) is a software-based data plane. This is one of several potential performance bottlenecks in a purely software-based system, Figure 1 below highlights the bottlenecks in packet processing on a typical NFV server.


                                          Figure 1: Software packet switching bottlenecks

A major technological challenge is software packet switching performance, virtualized network functions with higher network traffic demands are seeing large amounts of CPU being consumed in packet processing leaving much less CPU for executing the network function. Software data plane performance can be improved through various techniques in software or through the addition of add-in cards to offload high demand functions from the X86 CPU. There are commercial and open source options for the software data plane in various stages of development. A popular option is an open source project called Open vSwitch, another is the open source Data Plane Development Kit initiated by Intel.

The “Shared” Experience

Northforge helps OEMs develop NFV- and SDN-based products for their customers. Applying our software development skills to meet specific customer needs, we have the knowledge and experience to develop new or convert existing network functions that were previously handled by specialized hardware to the SDN and NFV paradigms.

Opportunities for Virtualizing Network Functions

Examples of how Northforge is helping to develop NFV or SDN to give carriers the application performance in software which historically was only found in high-cost proprietary hardware:

  • Virtualizing network functions to run on an OpenStack managed environment, some of the virtualized network functions are a Network Probe, a Router and a SIP server
  • Implementing PXE netbooting functionality to work with OpenStack
  • Programmatically performing virtual tapping of VNF elements deployed on the cloud with the same traffic monitoring capability as the physical elements
  • Cloud EMS framework that allows the creation and deployment of the infrastructure in OpenStack through automatically generated HEAT templates. The VNFs are deployed into an OVS/DPDK runtime environment
  • Development of a Distributed-NFV prototype for use at the Provider Edge (PE), where many functions can easily be implemented on standard server hardware, making PE routers ideal candidates for NFV


Northforge Command vIPBX

Drawing from our expertise in virtualizing network functions, improving and fine-tuning performance, and facilitating deployment and on-boarding, Northforge is the first to create a telephony VNF (IPPBX) that can run on a low-end Intel X86 platform and still support the performance and functional needs of the SBC (Session Border Controller). Northforge Command vIPBX, an IPPBX VNF, provides telephony services with easy connectivity to telephone switches, such as Avaya, Cisco and Mitel, and carriers, offering 60 concurrent sessions for a maximum of 300 users.

For more information about vIPBX, download the spec sheet or the evaluation version now:

Download vIPBX Spec Sheet Now                      Download Evaluation Copy Now