NFV (network functions virtualization) and VNF (virtual network functions) were supposed to help usher in the next generation of enterprise WAN solutions. By abstracting away the complexities of managing multiple appliances, service providers were supposed to be able to streamline the enterprise WAN and help make it as agile and scalable, much in the same way IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) did for web applications. Unfortunately, thus far conflicting interests between service providers and appliance OEMs have led to NFVs and VNFs falling short of their potential. This leaves enterprises looking to get the most out of their WAN optimization spend looking for alternatives.

We’ll explain why VNFs came up short and how a new type of provider, the SDC (Software Defined Carrier) is delivering where NFVs and VNFs could not.

Where VNF failed

Just a few years ago in the early 2010s, it seemed as though NFV and VNF were positioned to bring a paradigm shift to the enterprise WAN. The idea was that by virtualizing all aspects of an enterprise network (e.g. routers, firewalls, WAN appliances, etc.) and turning them into virtual network functions, operations could be streamlined and made easier to manage and scale. When we look at the benefits of hypervisors, SDN (Software Defined Networking), SD-WAN, and containerization, this seems to make intuitive sense.

However, in practice, VNF has been unable to deliver the scalable, agile management the modern enterprise network demands. This is due in large part to the inability of the industry to standardize and focus on the best interest of users. Instead, we have a patchwork of proprietary solutions that aren’t agile and extensible enough to realize the initial potential of NFV and VNF.

The problem is simple: it isn’t in the best interest of VNF vendors to standardize and make it easy for NFV appliances to swap out the underlying network functions to another vendor. This leaves us with a solution where the NFV appliance is able to provide high-level management across multiple VNFs, but granular control of a given VNF requires a proprietary solution from a vendor. Multiple proprietary solutions effectively cancel out the benefits of abstracting away the hardware appliances in the first place and leaves us back where we started.

How then can we bring better WAN optimization to the enterprise? One option is to wait for the NFV and VNF providers to find a way to offer a scalable solution, be it through APIs, widely adopted standards, or a series of mergers and integrations. However, that may take a long time, if it ever happens at all. Given that Software Defined Carriers (SDCs) offer a solution today that delivers what NFV has been promising for years, they offer a compelling business case for enterprise WAN optimization.

How SDCs are succeeding where VNF couldn’t

As we have seen, a big problem holding back NFVs is the conflicting interests service providers and appliance vendors have. These conflicts led to solutions that were hamstrung by proprietary solutions that had to be integrated with one another. Software Defined Carriers are designed to inherently resolve this problem. Instead of enterprises being forced to pick a myriad of appliances to integrate with one another, they can leverage an SDC to bring them a robust platform of microservices that delivers all the functionality they need. This delivery format truly abstracts away the complexity and provides scalable and flexible WAN optimization.

With SDCs, enterprises looking for a simple, holistic, and secure WAN solution are able to get all the functionality they need, without the need to manage a patchwork of integrations and appliances. This is because as opposed to attempting to integrate SD-WAN appliances, firewall appliances, and router appliances with one another, SDCs are purpose built to provide that functionality baked-in to a single solution.

The benefits of integrated network security

Security is one of the biggest concerns of any enterprise. One of the core benefits of leveraging a Software Defined Carrier for your WAN is that security is integrated into all aspects of the solution. For example, as opposed to needing to provision and integrate an NGFW (Next Generation Firewall) with your SD-WAN appliance, you can manage both on the same platform as they are all part of the same solution. Not only does this make security easier to scale, it minimizes the possibility of human error and misconfiguration leading to a network breach.

SDCs are the right fit for the modern enterprise

The takeaway here is clear: an enterprise looking to get the most out of their WAN optimization investment today are best served by an SDC. While NFV was promising in theory, the realities of its execution demonstrate why it simply isn’t ready for prime-time, and may never be. SDC resolves the issues NFV had by taking a new approach to abstracting away the complexities of the enterprise WAN, and in the process opens up a number of opportunities for enterprises that adopt it.