How cloud voice and NFV services differ

Network functions virtualization (NFV) could make VoIP and UC services even more affordable than a cloud offering. So what makes them different?

Hosted voice has been around for a long time. Even cloud voice and unified communications (UC) is nothing new. Now we have another voice architecture emerging, and it's based on the emerging carrier standard from ETSI called Network Functions Virtualization or NFV. The obvious question is whether UC/VoIP over NFV would really be any different and provide any unique benefits to both the operators and users. The answer is "It could be...

revolutionary," with an emphasis on "could."

NFV is about management, something that's usually ignored in the cloud.

NFV was launched in late 2012 by a group of telcos that wanted to lower capital costs by hosting network service features on off-the-shelf server platforms rather than on specialized appliances. Whatever is different about NFV-hosted voice has to be based on how NFV is different from the cloud, and there are two important differences to consider.

How cloud voice differs from NFV services

One big difference is that the cloud is typically used to host the same IP voice applications that were previously run on the premises. IaaS is really hosted virtual machines, which means that functionally the voice application isn't changed by putting it into the cloud. NFV hosts application components in a way that allows the components to be scaled as needed for performance or availability.

A second big difference between cloud VoIP/UC and the same service under NFV is that NFV allows deployment of components of the voice application on any suitable piece of hardware, meaning that you could in theory run a piece of a "cloud voice" application on a server on your premises, on a network access device or edge router, and of course in the cloud. You could then build cloud voice applications that could be pushed in part onto local devices in each of your locations, perhaps limiting your exposure to loss of calling features if the cloud voice service was down.

Difference number three between the cloud and NFV is that in cloud voice, the voice application is on the network, meaning that it's just another network user and has no more control over network behavior or integration with network management than a user device would. In NFV, it's possible to build a voice service that includes both hosted features and network connectivity and to manage them as a unit. That could encourage providers to bundle voice services with things like cloud computing and VPNs and also lets voice providers include things like hosted SBCs, firewalls for security and so on.

More on cloud and NFV services

Top cloud-based UC providers

When it makes sense to use cloud-based UC

The final difference is that NFV is about management, something that's usually ignored in the cloud. The goal of NFV is to reduce operational costs significantly by improving management. If that goal is met, it could mean that IP voice services and even UC/UCC could be less costly and more profitable for providers and less expensive for users at the same time.

Improved reliability, availability and features combined with potentially lower cost could be very good for users and for UC/UCC in particular, since all of these benefits are more valuable in a voice/video collaborative framework than for voice alone.

Now that you know the difference between a cloud voice and NFV services, take a look at part two of this article on how to avoid false NFV service claims.

This was first published in April 2014

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