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Network functions virtualization (NFV) is an initiative to virtualize network services traditionally run on proprietary, dedicated hardware. With NFV, functions like routing, load balancing and firewalls are packaged as virtual machines (VMs) on commodity hardware. Individual virtual network functions, or VNFs, are an essential component of NFV architecture.

Multiple VNFs can be added to a standard x86 server and then can be monitored and controlled by a hypervisor. NFV's mission to use commodity hardware is important because network managers no longer need to purchase and manually configure dedicated hardware devices in order to build a service chain that links certain functions to perform a desired sequence. Each dedicated device, by comparison, needs to be manually cabled together accordingly, which is a time-consuming process.

Because NFV architecture virtualizes network functions and eliminates specific hardware, network managers can add, move or change network functions at the server level in a simplified provisioning process.

If a VNF running on a virtual machine requires more bandwidth, for example, the administrator can move the VM to another physical server or provision another virtual machine on the original server to handle part of the load. Having this flexibility allows an IT department to respond in a more agile manner to changing business goals and network service demands.

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