Service Function Chaining explained (Guest Post)

This post is courtesy of Elaheh T. Jahromi, PhD from Concordia and R&D intern at Ericsson Montreal. You can reach her on Linkedin). Thank you!!

Service Function Chaining (SFC – see RFC 7498) is a defined ordered set of network service functions (such as NAT, Firewalls, Load Balancer,…) to realize a high level/end-to-end service. In other words, SFC identifies which service functions a flow of packets should go through from its source to destination.what-is-side-chaining

In conventional networks, Network Services are “statically deployed/chained” in the network. “Statically deployed/chained” stems from the fact that they are hardly coupled to dedicated/proprietary hardware and underlying network topology, thus resulting in rigidity and limitations for network service providers

The substantial reliance of NFs to their underlying HW, brings about huge CAPEX for deployments, as well as OPEX, in view of the fact that configuration of the NFs requires labor-intensive manual effort. On top of that, due to time-consuming process of adding/removing NFs, these NFs should be over-provisioned for peak hours that leads to under-utilization of expensive resources in off-peak times.

NFV and SDN are complementary technologies, emerged to deal with above-mentioned issues.

NFV aims at decoupling the network functions from the underlying hardware, and eventually defining the NFs as stand-alone piece of software entitled as Virtual Network Functionalities (VNF), that could be rapidly deployed and run on top of standard and general hardware, anywhere in the network.

SDN realizes the dynamic SFC, by decoupling the control and data plane in network. Using SDN, the routing devices in the network are programmed on the fly to enable a specific function chain for a specific traffic, in a way that eventually the traffic is steered through different pre-deployed NFs. For example if Service A requires NF X,Y and Z, an SDN controller will populate the forwarding tables of routing devices in a way that the packets belonging to the service A traverse first to service X, then Y and Z. A concrete example of SDN and dynamic SFC usage is illustrated in [1] which offers differentiated QoS for privilege traffics while regular traffics are steered through a best effort service. The following illustration from the Cisco Blog shows how their vSwitch implements SFC:


OpenDayLight Project, is an open source SDN project hosted by The Linux Foundation. This project was announced on 2013 and followed by another collaborative project entitled as OPNFV (Open Platform for NFV) in September 2014. In short, OPNFV is an open source project to realize VNF deployment, orchestration, management and chaining using a set of upstream open projects. As an example OPNFV leverages Open Stack as an IaaS solution for supporting the required infrastructure for VNFs to be deployed and run. ODL is also integrated in OPNFV to enable the dynamic chaining of VNFs.


[1] Callegati, Franco, et al. “Dynamic chaining of Virtual Network Functions in cloud-based edge networks.” Network Softwarization (NetSoft), 2015 1st IEEE Conference on. IEEE, 2015.