NFV means Network Function Virtualization. It’s an initiative started by ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standard Institute. It’s a big organization, well respected, responsible of the technologies we have traditionally used to communicate (radio, cable, internet, modems, fax, etc).
In October 2012, a ETSI working group composed by mostly European Telcos and Carriers published a white paper (followed by a second paper, and third paper) basically saying ‘We Want Cheaper Infrastructure, more Elastic, using Commodity servers, to be more Agile and create Better Services to compete with pure OTT players”. They were trying to force the NEPs (telco hardware providers) to stop selling routers as physical boxes with fixed CPU and RAM. This model involes more than 6 months to install a single router, and every replacement involves careful planning for a maintenance window only after many more weeks to test the upgrade (hard or software). Telcos wanted to leverage the Cloud technologies that in 2012 were already mature and allowed OTT players (Netflix, Whatsapp, Skype) to eat their market share, menacing their value-added services and creating an image of Telcos being just ‘pipes’ to the Internet, a mere commodity.
In conclusion, NFV is the telco version of Virtualization, that combines private cloud technologies (Openstack) with network automation (SDN – Software Defined Networking), and includes the definition of the next-generation service management and orchestration (MANO) of the virtualized network functions (VNFs).