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Dell research goes full throttle for an NFV future

Posted: 06 May 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Dell Labs? NFV? server? Internet of Things? FPGA?

Dell Labs' year-old research division is pulling out all the stops in developing machine learning software and tools for network function virtualisation (NFV) for its servers used by telcom carriers that also hold promise for some applications in the Internet of Things. In particular, a team of researchers from Dell aims to make networked devices easier to use, seamless in mobility, and simpler for developers.

Dell Research is working on several independent and partner efforts to realise an NFV future, which will likely come into fruition around 2020. While Dell Research Head Jai Menon previously said telcos are even slower to adopt than the server space, he sees NFV on the horizon.

"This is a journey and I do believe it will be an eight to 10 year journey before 80 per cent of apps get virtualised and run in NFV mode," Menon stated. "This appears to be the nice launch year when things are moving forward and many, many telcos are reaching out and doing trials. There's a momentum in 2015 that feels really good."

Dell Research is working with professors at UC Berkeley to develop reliable infrastructures that support NFV and associated applications. NFV servers must have extremely fast fail-overs, a high quality of service, and be constantly available, requirements that put a strain on engineers and developers.

"The compute and network worlds are often separate, and it's hard to write apps that do networking things like firewall and encryption," Menon said. "We're doing our own research here on a middleware layer for NFV applications that makes it easy for people to do app development. I think what you need in the NFV ecosystem is ease of use."

Menon envisions NFV software that doesn't need to be changed for an x86 server that has hardware acceleration or one that doesn't have such chips. Dell Research is dissecting what devices will require something like an FPGA to enable some NFV features. Menon believes nearly 80 per cent of servers can be adopted for NVF without additional hardware.

To further develop ease of use as well as open contribution, Dell joined the industry group Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV). Open source software has a big role to play in NFV, Menon said, and Dell is hosting an OPNFV test bed in its lab.

"It's very early days, but we believe in this direction and believe it's important," Menon said, adding that operators and other companies have experimented on Dell's test bed.

The server of 2020 will likely be slightly slower than what Moore's Law would traditionally predict. Nevertheless, in some aspects such as memory, network bandwidth, and floating point speed, we're likely to see enormous increases, he said.

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