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Enterprise NFV Fundamentals

March 8, 2016 - 9 Comments
Contributors: Robb Boyd

Virtualizing your network functions and decoupling them from specific hardware can help you simplify operations, automate service delivery, and make money more quickly. Find out how to do it the right way in our latest Fundamentals installment.

At one level, NFV (Network Function Virtualization) is simply what it implies: Those network functions that must happen within the network are now (ideally) virtualized. This means that they are re-created as software versions. The benefits to doing something like this can be quite good, similar of course to the benefits we have learned to love and expect from server virtualization. Virtualizing network functions should be done to compliment the reality of our virtualized workloads as well…or put another way…we do this not because we can do it…but because we should. We do it so that we can gain benefit in some new area.

So what area(s) would that be?

I would cite the top three as: faster service delivery, higher resource utilization, and lower operating costs.

Cisco has a couple of different technology groups and so the idea of NFV might first bring ‘Service Provider’ to mind. Which makes sense…this is the primary place the industry has been looking to adopt this set of capabilities. The returns for a service provider can be enormous…for the exact same three reasons I cited. But that is NOT what we are talking about here. Specifically, we are talking Enterprise NFV.

Enterprise NFV is focused on bringing this SDN style functionality to your branch office capabilities. Any large enterprise is thinking like a service provider these days because the IT department (or whatever you might call it now) are providing business critical functions. The faster it can be done, the more it can be used and at the lowest cost..the better.

This is covered in the video…but just to make sure you don’t miss it, there are a couple of key components you should understand:

  1. Enterprise Service Automation (ESA)
    • Enterprise Service Automation is an application running on top of Cisco’s Enterprise controller, APIC-EM, that centrally orchestrates and manages network services, whether physical or virtual. ESA provides a standardized site design, zero-touch deployment, and automated monitoring of the Cisco Enterprise NFV solution and its network services.ESA - Consistent Management
  2. Virtual Network Functions (VNFs)
    • Cisco Enterprise NFV supports Cisco’s best-in-class virtual network functions as well as 3rd party non-Cisco services. License portability from physical Cisco devices to its software counterpart is possible through Cisco ONE, providing investment protection and an easy path to virtualization.
    • Robust services available with Enterprise NFV include Cisco routing (Integrated Services Virtual Router, or ISRv), Cisco firewall (ASAv), Cisco WAN acceleration (vWAAS), and Cisco wireless LAN controller (vWLC) functions. Cisco ONE provides license portability from physical devices to software components, protecting your investment and creating the easiest path to virtualization.NFVIS
  3. Enterprise NFV Infrastructure Software (NFVIS)
    • Cisco Enterprise NFV Infrastructure Software virtualizes and abstracts the network services from the underlying hardware. It provides the Linux-based virtualization layer (network hypervisor) that allows you to easily add VNFs to your network. An integrated hypervisor lets you create and run network functions as virtual appliances using a graphical user interface. Programmable, open APIs allow enhanced applications, such as the ESA app described earlier, to work in the virtual branch.
    • A Plug-and-Play (PnP) Application agent automatically connects to a central orchestrator in the APIC-EM, from which it downloads profiles to automatically set up WAN interface configuration details for a VNF and then lets the VNF boot right up with that configuration.
    • Lifecycle management capabilities built into NFVIS also manage your VNFs and monitor their performance.NFVIS supports service chaining, zero-touch deployment, life cycle management and programmable open APIs.

Don’t miss our live workshop on March 22. You can listen and watch the replay if you should miss it at this same link.

Enterprise NFV is part of Cisco’s Digital Network Architecture

Readers are leaders:

Special thanks to James Sandgathe and Liad Ofek for their technical guidance on this. I hope the metaphor we used in the animation is one that resonates with everyone. Feel free to let me know what you think.


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  1. Robb,

    Having watched an earlier video on Cisco ACI before this, two or three themes seem to be continually coming up SDN, network programmability and NFV.

    A question for you:
    As someone currently studying IT(emphasis networking) in prep for a career, what Cisco certification tracks would best encompass these technologies?

    With Comptia’s A+ and Network+ under my belt, learning both Python and Linux, I am currently studying for the CCNA R&S. Beyond that would you think Cisco’s Cloud track or Datacenter?



    • Hi William, thanks for the question. I tend to lean towards data center based on your set up on the SDN trends. But in general, I like your non-Cisco education path as well. We will continue to see more and more technologies linked through some of the same programming languages you are already versed in and so this should work well in general. I have sent your question to a few friends in different places and I hope we get some more angles for you to consider as well.

      • Thanks a lot Robb for your response.

        Keep up the great work.

        Btw, I did not know about TechWiseTV until running across a link to some of your shows on

        I am sure glad I made the discovery.


    • I’d recommend taking a trip over to the Cisco Learning Network and get some feedback from your peers as well William. So many valid ways of answering these questions. As far as where these topics show up in certification tracks… no need to guess there. We’ve got all of the Exam Topics for every Cisco Certification in one spot:

      Most people on our site recommend getting a CCNA R&S cert as your bedrock to build on… but you will find other opinions as well. Hope you’ll post your questions over there and let the community give you some food for thought.

      Brett Lovins
      Community Manager
      The Cisco Learning Network

      • Thanks for jumping in with this Brett. Great recommendations.

      • Hi Brett,

        Thanks for the (re)direction and suggestions. I’ll post my question over on the LearningNetwork site. That pretty much has been my thoughts regarding the CCNA R&S as the bedrock or “backbone”, if you will, upon which to build my studies. I will be taking the ICND1 test this month and follow from there.

        Thanks again to both of you for the kindness of your help, and Brett I’ll meet you over on the Learning Network (I believe the CCENT study group).



    • Hi William,

      I’ll try to shed some light on your query.

      Cisco certifications portfolio is a diverse collection of programs, and we have carefully designed the portfolio to align with two important aspects; 1) Technology, and 2) Job-role alignment.

      From a technology standpoint, we have two distinct flavor of certification groups – Career-oriented certification (CCNA/CCNP/CCIE), and the Specialists-oriented certifications which go deep into a particular domain.

      For the technologies mentioned below such as Cloud, SDN, Network Programmability (aka SDN), IoT etc… they have been infused in both portfolios (Career/Specialist) depending on the depth and need of the job roles.

      For example, we have a dedicated new Career-cert for – CCNA Cloud, and CCNP Cloud; and we also have Cloud covered in our recently announced CCIE DC v2.0
      Cisco ACI is a major focus area in the new DC portfolio. Check out the new CCIE DC 2.0 blueprint which goes live in July 2016.

      Similarly, we have Specialist dedicated portfolio on Network Programmability; and this is also sprinkled in other Career-certs such as CCNA/NP/IE DC, Design, SP, etc.

      We recently announced integrating an array of new Evolving Technologies into our CCIE/CCDE programs (all tracks) covering new technologies such as Cloud, IoT, Network Programmability (not too deep but at a level required for CCIEs to understand the new stuff).

      I guess what I am trying to say is – it depends how you want to approach your learning and may have to combine between Career certs vs. Specialists certs.

      Hope that helps.

      Yusuf Bhaiji
      Sr. Manager, Global Certifications Team

  2. Great story delivering the Enterprise NFV message !!