As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, several new technological trends have begun to transform the systems that enable us to both work and live. Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is allowing network operators to both reduce their outgoings and speed-up the deployment of new services and this concept is currently becoming more and more widespread around the world. In this two-part series of articles, we’ll be looking at what Network Function Virtualization is, how it works, how it compares to SDN, what its benefits are and, later, what it means for the Fourth Industrial Revolution alongside the likes of Software Defined Networking (SDN).
As advanced automation, driverless vehicles, robotics, drones, AI, virtualization and 5G wireless communications technologies all drive us further into the future, it is already glaringly obvious that what has become known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is well and truly underway.
However, in order to truly unlock the promises of technologies such as automation and driverless vehicles, certain underlying architectures will need to be in place before we can begin to do so. Among others, two of the most important of these technologies will be network function virtualization and software-defined networking.
In the first article of this two-part series on network function virtualization (NFV), we look at what NFV was and why everyone is now going virtual, detailing some of the benefits that can come with NFV as well as its relationship with software-defined networking (SDN). In this article, we’ll be looking at how these two key technologies are driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what this could mean for the future.
What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
You may already be aware of the first industrial revolution way back when in the 19th Century. What you may not know, however, is that there have been another two since then and a fourth is currently underway. So, what were these revolutions?
The first industrial revolution was brought into life through the use of steam and water to power machines and equipment. The second industrial revolution came about through the introduction of electricity and mass production and the third industrial revolution was characterized by the dawning of the digital era and the internet.
The fourth industrial revolution is being colored by the development and utilization of cyber-physical systems, advanced automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. In contrast, the Fourth Industrial Revolution looks set to be more impactful and push us further into the future than any that have come before it.
Driverless vehicles, robots, and artificial intelligence may all sound very futuristic, but they are innovations that are happening right now as a direct result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the technologies that enable it. This is where we come to NFV and SDN.
The Role of NFV & SDN
NFV is a networking concept that looks to provide more network agility and reduce costs through decoupling certain functions like firewall or encryption from traditional, dedicated hardware and moving them over to virtual servers.
Software-defined networks are more along the lines of a collection of network objects such as switches, routers and firewalls that are capable of automation and covering network requirements such as VLAN and interface provisioning.
Using these two concepts has helped to give rise to next-generation products and services such as 5G wireless communications networks, which have also been touted as another driver of the fourth industrial revolution by experts and enthusiasts alike. Almost all Industry 4.0 innovations will use wireless communication networks, and so 5G, as well as NFV and SDN, will likely shape the direction of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Virtualized servers will play a crucial role in keep virtual networks together, a process which involves SDN, rather than NFV, however both concepts are aiming for the wider goal of virtualizing both services and applications while also increasing network agility and reducing costs at the same time.
This shared goal between NFV and SDN could also have the beneficial side effect of enabling network operators and service providers to invest in their own systems and technologies and develop the very products that will become the benchmark of Industry 4.0.
Beyond the Fourth Industrial Revolution
As we enter an age where technological, biological, physical, and virtual resources are becoming more and more integrated and connected, where network function virtualization and software-defined networking go from here is still significant to the future of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
When used in combination, SDN and NFV allow enhanced levels of network flexibility, agility, reliability and security as well as improved speeds. This could turn out to be a winning combination for the multitude of intelligent and IoT devices that are estimated to arrive in the billions by 2020. Security advantages another benefit these systems will have when it comes to integrating and protecting these devices.
Technology is evolving at what appears to be an ever-increasing rate, and the capabilities and benefits of concepts such as network function virtualization and software-defined networking will more than likely lay the foundations that help ensure we are empowered to reach the Fifth Industrial Revolution.