The engine under the hood of Cisco Enterprise NFV

We’ve all heard that saying, “What is under that hood?” That question refers to “the kick-ass” capability not obvious at first glance. Starting today that question will have a new meaning.

A few weeks ago Cisco launched the first NFV solution for the Enterprise – a key component of the new Cisco Digital Network Architecture. Enterprises can now virtualize network services and applications at the branch similar to how servers have been virtualized in the data center and the cloud. Enterprise NFV introduces the best aspects of NFV and SDN, such as programmability, elasticity and automation to the network edge. It will significantly reduce cost and increase speed of service deployments.

A closer look at the engine under the hood of Cisco Enterprise NFV.

That “kick-ass” I referred to above is the Cisco Enterprise NFV Infrastructure Software (#NFVIS). NFVIS is the software platform that implements full life cycle management from the central orchestrator and controller (APIC-EM and ESA) for virtualized services. NFVIS enables the connectivity between virtual services and external interfaces as well as supporting the underlying hardware. You can think of NFVIS as a software virtual platform that has the following key capabilities:

  • Platform management supports not only network and platform resources such as CPU/Memory/Storage, but also to enable higher network performance functions such as SR-IOV (for those that are not familiar with Intel’s SR-IOV, here is a good primer);
  • A virtualization layer that implements a Linux KVM hypervisor and virtual switch. This layer abstracts the service functions implemented by each VNF from the underlying hardware. NFVIS allows VNFs to be managed independently and to be provisioned dynamically.
  • Programmable API interface for REST and NETCONF used to control all aspects of the virtual services life cycle management.
  • Health monitoring system watches over the critical processes of the system that can also be accessed via the NFVIS API.

Local web portal that allows the system to be managed, to create virtual networks, assign physical interfaces, and deploy, add and remove VNF services. For all of the dashboards and tables displayed, the web portal uses the exact REST API set that is available to end users to call as well. Below is just a sneak preview of the NFVIS device portal.

NFVIS Dashboard - VM Status

When a new network service needs to be deployed, NFVIS is the software doing the heavy lifting to make the process smooth and seamless to the end user. Here is a breakout of the earlier diagram that shows more details on NFVIS.

NFVIS - Plug-n-Play

One more item illustrated above is Plug-n-Play. This allows NFVIS to receive and execute the profiles created in the ESA orchestrator to automate the deployment. The following diagram illustrates the flow.

NFVIS - Enterprise Services Automation

In our first release of Enterprise NFV, NFVIS will be supported on the following platforms:

  • Cisco UCS 220-M4
  • Cisco UCS-E 140S on ISR-4331
  • Cisco UCS-E 140S and UCS-E 160D/180D on ISR-4351 and 4451

Wrapping it up

In addition to all of the great advantages described so far with NFVIS and the Enterprise NFV solution, here are just a few more highlights:

  • Engineers and administrators of Enterprise NFV with NFVIS do not have to be experts in virtualization since the system takes care of those details “under the hood”.
  • Cisco Enterprise NFV is not just a hypervisor. It is an end-to-end solution that delivers all of the needed automation, management and services components.
  • NFVIS is built and packaged to deliver the best performance with minimal resources to maximize the number of supported VNFs.
  • Deploy virtual network and application services without having to purchase licenses and learn separate virtualization software.
  • When compared to systems like Openstack, the implementation of NFVIS in the Enterprise NFV solution provides a much more efficient and lightweight means of deploying virtual machines.
  • Enterprise NFV also can manage existing Cisco hardware devices, making NFVIS a friendly addition to our management suite.
  • Supports multiple methods for chaining VNF services with more to come.
  • Each of the hardware platforms referenced above supports the Cisco Integrated Management Controller (CIMC) for complete out of band management of the platform.

In a technical whitepaper located here Enterprise NFV Whitepaper, my friend and colleague Matthias Falkner and I provide some guidance for when you would use each type of platform. Also, I’ll be giving two new deep technical sessions on Enterprise NFV; one technical breakout and one hands-on session at Cisco Live Las Vegas July 10th to July 14th this summer.


When combining these hardware options with NFVIS, the result is a pretty powerful NFV platform. You can get more information on Enterprise NFV via these resources:

  1. Mar 22, 2016 @10am PT, @1pm CT webinar: Exploring the Advantages of Enterprise Network Functions Virtualization. Register.
  2. Cisco Enterprise NFV Solution
  3. April 14-15, 2016: Ask the Experts session on EN Communities. Mark your calendar.

The next blog in this series will cover the background of why we created NFVIS and its uniqueness.


James Sandgathe

Engineer, Technical Marketing

Enterprise Infrastructure and Solutions Group