The elevator pitch for Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is simple: why make massive investments in custom equipment when standard servers can do the job – and with far better flexibility? The reality, of course, is much more complicated. To deploy an NFV solution, developers must answer questions including:


  • Which servers should I use?
  • What is the right operating system (OS) and virtualization solution?
  • How do I virtualize switching and packet processing?
  • How can I ensure sufficient performance, availability, reliability, and cost-efficiency?


Two new NFV platforms from Red Hat* and Wind River* address these questions with highly-integrated OpenStack* packages that are optimized for high performance and rapid deployment. Each platform combines a variety of software and hardware from the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance – let’s start by taking a look at the NFV platform from Red Hat, a General member of the Alliance.


Red Hat*/6WIND* NFV Foundation

As shown in Figure 1, Red Hat’s offering is built on Red Hat Enterprise Linux* and Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. These components provide the fundamental reliability and efficiency needed to decouple network functions from the underlying hardware. Red Hat Enterprise Linux OpenStack* Platform controls the overall solution and provides an interface for a wide variety of network orchestration software tools.


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Figure 1. The Red Hat*/6WIND* NFV platform is optimized for reliability and performance.


To ensure optimal performance, the solution incorporates the 6WINDGate* networking stack from Affiliate member 6WIND. Compared to standard Linux* distributions, this software delivers a 10x performance boost to both data plane applications and the virtual switch. For the data plane, 6WINDGate uses the Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) library to process network packets outside the Linux kernel. This fast-path processing can deliver over 10 million packets per second per core on the latest Intel® Xeon® processors. (See the Red Hat/6WIND brief for more details.)


For switching, the 6WINDGate Open vSwitch Acceleration module runs through 6WIND’s fast path architecture. It delivers 200 Gbps throughput transparently without having to recompile the standard Open vSwitch, change anything in the OpenStack platform, Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM)/ QEMU hypervisor, or OpenFlow controller. (The 200 Gbps performance was recently verified on an HP ProLiant server– see 6WIND’s product brief for details. HP is a Associate member of the Alliance.)


To demonstrate their platform’s value, Red Hat and 6WIND recently created a vEPC orchestration proof-of-concept (PoC) illustrated in Figure 2. This PoC runs on PowerEdge* C6220 servers from Premier member Dell. Other collaborators on the PoC include Intel, Cyan, and Connectem. It is worth noting that the Dell PowerEdge C6220 offers a number of carrier-grade features such as certification to NEBS Level 3 and ETSI standards (including extended operating temperature range and shock resistance) and DC power supplies. Thus, the PoC is comprised of deployment-ready components from the hardware all the way up to the service orchestration layer.


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Figure 2. Key elements of the vEPC PoC Stack.


This PoC nicely demonstrates how developers can deal with the complexities of NFV. I strongly recommend reading the related white paper on the Intel® Network Builders site– it describes the challenges and the solutions of vEPC in considerable detail and is well worth your time.


Wind River* Carrier Grade Communications Server

Wind River has also developed its own fully-integrated NFV solution, the Wind River* Carrier Grade Communications Server. As illustrated in Figure 3, Wind River has built this platform up over time, offering progressively higher levels of functionality over the last couple of years. The company’s latest offering integrates Wind River Open Virtualization with Wind River Linux, optimized real-time Kernel-Based Virtual Machine (KVM++), carrier grade enhancements to OpenStack, and DPDK accelerated vSwitch technologies. The solution is designed specifically for NFV deployment, and to seamlessly integrate with existing networks.



Figure 3. Wind River’s NFV platform builds on previous offerings.


The most obvious benefit of the platform is its high level of integration. But what really makes the platform noteworthy is its emphasis on carrier grade reliability. According to Wind River, the software supports “six 9s” reliability, translating to downtime as low as 30 seconds a year. It is hard to overstate the importance of this claim – an NFV design is only useful if it delivers carrier-grade reliability, and working out reliability issues can be a huge development hurdle. Thus, the availability of six 9’s reliability in a pre-integrated NFV software platform is a major asset.


The Wind River Carrier Grade Communications Server is optimized for and running on HP ProLiant servers. Given the platform’s emphasis on carrier-grade reliability, it is worth noting that the HP ProLiant line itself offers carrier grade features, including NEBS and ETSI certifications and extended lifecycles. It is also worth noting that 6WIND used this same HP server line to demonstrate its Open vSwitch performance. This fact that illustrates the fundamental value of NFV, namely the ability to use standard servers and software with a high level of interoperability.


Returning to Wind River’s NFV platform, the reliability of the software is complemented by its high performance. Particularly notable is the accelerated virtual switch software, which delivers 20x the performance of the standard Open vSwitch with no hardware acceleration required. This switch can deliver 12 million packets per second to guest virtual machines (VMs) using only two processor cores on an industry-standard server platform, in a real-world use case involving bidirectional traffic. What’s more, this cutting-edge performance is achieved using up to 33% fewer CPU resources than alternative solutions – see Wind River’s press release for details.


A Foundation for the Future

The Red Hat/6WIND and Wind River NFV platforms address some of the most pressing issues facing telecom developers today. By providing highly integrated foundations for virtualized equipment, these platforms promise to dramatically lower time-to-market while delivering industry-leading performance, efficiency and reliability. And it’s clear that these companies are fully committed to NFV, meaning that we can expect even greater integration and higher levels of performance in the future. I can’t wait to see what’s next!


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Dell OEM is a Premier member of the Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance. Hewlett-Packard and Wind River Systems are Associate members of the Alliance. 6WIND SA is an Affiliate member and Red Hat is a General member.


Kenton Williston

Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Internet of Things Solutions Alliance

Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine

Follow me on Twitter: @kentonwilliston