A virtual network function (VNF) is a virtualized task formerly carried out by proprietary, dedicated hardware.
VNF moves network functions out of dedicated hardware devices and into software. This allows specific functions that required hardware devices in the past to operate on standard x86 servers. VNFs carry out specific network functions on virtual machines (VMs) under control of a hypervisor. Such tasks might include firewalling, domain name service (DNS), caching or network address translation (NAT).
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VNFs can be linked, or chained, together in a way similar to building blocks. This is known as service chaining. Although the concept is not new, service chaining and the application provisioning process is made shorter and simpler with VNF. VNFs exist within a Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) infrastructure and the two acronyms are sometimes interchanged.