Kentik - Network Observability

Cloud-Native Network Functions (CNF)

Cloud-Native Networks and Technology

Cloud-native networks and technology have emerged as a result of the increasing reliance on cloud computing, transforming the way network design and architecture function. This approach focuses on flexibility, scalability, and resilience, making it an ideal choice for modern applications and services that demand high levels of performance and adaptability.

The development of CNFs can be traced back to the growing need for more agile and scalable networking solutions in the era of digital transformation, as organizations increasingly rely on cloud-based infrastructure to power their applications and services.

What is a Cloud-Native Network Function (CNF)?

CNFs (cloud-native network functions) are designed to provide highly adaptable and efficient network functions within cloud-native applications. CNFs replace traditional physical network functions (PNFs) and offer greater scalability, automation, and adaptability to meet the dynamic needs of modern cloud environments.

The advent of CNFs has significantly impacted NetOps and DevOps professionals, as it has led to a shift in focus from managing hardware-based network components to developing, deploying, and maintaining software-based network functions. This change has made collaboration between development and operations teams more critical than ever, as they work together to ensure the seamless integration of CNFs into existing cloud-native environments.

VNFs vs. CNFs

While virtual network functions (VNFs) marked the transition from physical network functions to virtual machines, CNFs represent an evolution beyond virtual machines into cloud-native environments. CNFs integrate seamlessly with cloud-native applications, offering improved performance, flexibility, and reduced complexity compared to VNFs.

The transition from VNFs to CNFs has been driven by the need for more efficient and scalable network functions that can better support the diverse and dynamic nature of modern cloud-based applications. As a result, CNFs have become the preferred choice for organizations seeking to optimize their network infrastructure for the cloud-native era.

Components of CNF Architecture

CNF architecture is designed to optimize the performance and management of network functions within cloud-native applications. This architecture has several key components:


Microservices are small, self-contained units that perform specific tasks within an application. By breaking down an application into smaller, more manageable pieces, microservices enable greater flexibility and scalability.


Containers are lightweight, standalone executable packages that house the necessary dependencies, libraries, and runtime for a given microservice. Containers provide a consistent and portable environment for running microservices, facilitating easier deployment and management.

Control Plane

The control plane is responsible for managing and controlling the network functions within a CNF. It handles tasks such as configuration, routing, and policy enforcement. The control plane communicates with the data plane to ensure the proper flow of traffic.

Data Plane

The data plane is responsible for forwarding and processing network traffic. It is optimized for performance and handles tasks such as packet processing, forwarding, and filtering.

Management Plane

The management plane is responsible for managing the overall lifecycle of a CNF, from deployment to decommissioning. It includes monitoring, logging, and orchestration of microservices.


Orchestration tools—such as Kubernetes—are used to automate the deployment, scaling, and management of containerized microservices. They ensure optimal resource allocation and facilitate seamless integration with the underlying cloud infrastructure.

Requirements of a CNF Implementation

Lightweight and Stateless Data Plane Configuration

To achieve cloud-native speed, the data plane configuration should be lightweight and stateless. This minimizes resource usage and enables rapid scaling of network functions.

Robust and Feature-Rich Software Data Plane

A CNF implementation requires a software data plane that is both robust and feature-rich, offering capabilities such as routing, load balancing, and security. This ensures that the data plane can handle the diverse requirements of modern network functions.

Userspace Networking

Userspace networking allows for kernel immutability and improved performance by keeping the network stack in userspace, separate from the kernel. This results in performance gains, as the kernel does not need to be modified for every update, and reduces the risk of kernel-related issues.

Common APIs

To simplify development and integration, CNFs should offer common APIs that enable seamless interaction with other components within the cloud-native ecosystem. These APIs facilitate faster development, as well as easier integration with other services and platforms.


Observability is crucial for CNF implementations, as it enables monitoring, logging, and tracing of network functions. This provides valuable insights into the performance and health of the network functions, enabling more informed decision-making and proactive issue resolution.

Benefits of Cloud-Native Network Functions

CNFs provide a wide range of benefits, enhancing the efficiency, resilience, and scalability of network functions within cloud-native environments. Key advantages include:

Distributed Microservices Architecture

CNFs leverage a distributed microservices architecture, which allows for increased resilience and scalability. This approach enables network functions to be developed, deployed, and managed independently, reducing the impact of failures and facilitating rapid scaling.

Reduced Data Center Footprint

By utilizing cloud-native infrastructure, CNFs can help reduce the data center footprint, lowering costs associated with physical hardware, power consumption, and cooling.

Dynamic Scaling and Elasticity

CNFs offer dynamic scaling and elasticity, enabling network functions to automatically adjust to changing workloads and resource requirements. This ensures optimal resource utilization and improves overall network performance.

Support for Diverse Deployment Environments

CNFs are designed to be platform-agnostic, allowing for deployment across various cloud environments, including public, private, and hybrid clouds. This flexibility enables organizations to choose the most appropriate infrastructure for their specific needs.

Enhanced Business Capabilities

CNFs enable rapid service delivery and innovation, allowing organizations to quickly respond to evolving market demands and capitalize on new business opportunities.

Simplified Service Discovery and Management

CNFs streamline service discovery and management through the use of standardized APIs and orchestration tools. This simplifies the process of deploying, scaling, and managing network functions, reducing operational overhead and increasing agility.

Improved Network Resilience

By distributing network functions across multiple microservices and leveraging cloud-native technologies, CNFs improve network resilience. This architecture helps to minimize the impact of failures and ensure continuous service availability.

Faster Innovation and Continuous Improvement

CNFs support a DevOps approach, which encourages collaboration between development and operations teams. This leads to faster innovation and continuous improvement, as network functions can be iteratively developed, tested, and deployed with minimal disruption.

Cost Savings

By utilizing cloud-native infrastructure and automated management, CNFs can lead to significant cost savings. Organizations can reduce expenses related to hardware, maintenance, and labor, as well as optimize resource usage through dynamic scaling and elasticity.

Cloud-Native Network Function Use Cases

CNFs can be applied in various scenarios to address different networking challenges and requirements. Some of the key use cases include:

Load Balancing

CNFs enable efficient load balancing across services by automatically distributing network traffic among multiple instances. This ensures optimal resource utilization and performance, preventing individual instances from being overloaded and maintaining high availability.

Deploying Network Services

CNFs facilitate rapid deployment of network services by leveraging containerization, microservices, and cloud-native orchestration tools. This approach reduces time-to-market and improves service quality by allowing organizations to quickly provision, scale, and manage network functions in response to changing requirements.

Service Bundles

CNFs allow for the bundling of services to create comprehensive solutions tailored to specific use cases or business needs. By combining multiple network functions into a single, cohesive offering, organizations can optimize resource utilization, simplify management, and deliver an integrated user experience.

Network Function Chaining

CNFs enable the creation of dynamic network function chains, where multiple network functions are interconnected to process traffic in a specific sequence. This allows organizations to implement complex networking scenarios, such as traffic optimization, security, and policy enforcement, with greater flexibility and control.

Cloud-Native Network Technologies

Three significant network technologies are driven by cloud-native computing, each contributing to the overall performance, scalability, and manageability of CNFs:

Cloud-Managed Networks

Cloud-managed networks simplify network management by leveraging cloud-based platforms for centralized control and enhanced visibility. These platforms provide a unified interface for monitoring, configuring, and managing network functions across multiple environments, making it easier for organizations to maintain consistent policies and performance.

Service Mesh Adoption

Service meshes enable secure and reliable communication between microservices by providing features such as load balancing, traffic management, and security. By adopting service meshes, organizations can improve overall application performance, ensure data privacy, and streamline the process of adding, removing, or updating microservices in a CNF deployment.

Kubernetes Networking

Kubernetes plays a crucial role in orchestrating and managing CNFs, ensuring optimal resource allocation and service delivery. As a container orchestration platform, Kubernetes automates the deployment, scaling, and management of CNFs, allowing organizations to focus on their core business objectives. Additionally, Kubernetes networking capabilities, such as network policies and ingress controllers, provide powerful tools for managing network traffic, security, and routing within CNF deployments.

CNFs in Hybrid and Multi-Cloud Environments

Cloud-native network functions (CNFs) are not only beneficial for large, geographically dispersed networks, but they also provide benefits for enterprises operating in hybrid and multi-cloud architectures. In these environments, organizations often face challenges in deploying network services consistently and efficiently across different cloud platforms. CNFs help address these challenges in several ways:

  • Seamless Integration: CNFs enable organizations to easily deploy network services across various cloud platforms, whether public, private, or hybrid. By leveraging containerization and standardized APIs, CNFs facilitate interoperability and seamless integration with different cloud infrastructure providers.
  • Consistent Performance: By deploying CNFs across hybrid and multi-cloud environments, enterprises can ensure consistent network performance and functionality across all their cloud platforms. This uniformity helps maintain application performance and quality of service, regardless of the underlying infrastructure.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: In hybrid and multi-cloud architectures, deploying physical appliances or multiple virtual server network appliances can be costly and resource-intensive. CNFs provide a more cost-effective alternative by allowing enterprises to deploy network functions within lightweight containers, reducing resource consumption and overall expenses.
  • Increased Flexibility: CNFs empower organizations to adapt quickly to changing requirements or workloads in their hybrid and multi-cloud environments. With their dynamic scaling and elasticity features, CNFs can be easily adjusted and redeployed to meet evolving demands, providing a higher level of agility and responsiveness.
  • Simplified Management: Managing network functions across multiple cloud platforms can be complex and time-consuming. CNFs, with their centralized management capabilities, simplify the process of deploying, scaling, and managing network functions across hybrid and multi-cloud environments. This streamlined approach reduces operational overhead and allows organizations to focus on their core business objectives.

Security and Compliance in Cloud-Native Network Functions

CNFs can enhance security and compliance by leveraging the inherent security features of cloud-native technologies and architectures. By distributing network functions across multiple microservices and using containerization, CNFs can provide better isolation and reduce the attack surface.

Additionally, CNFs can be integrated with existing security policies and tools, allowing organizations to monitor and manage security consistently across their entire network infrastructure. This ensures compliance with industry standards and regulations, while also protecting sensitive data and applications from potential threats.

Kentik for Cloud and Cloud-Native Environments

Discover how Kentik’s network observability solution can help your organization leverage the full potential of cloud and cloud-native network functions. Explore Kentik Cloud, our comprehensive offering for monitoring, analyzing, and optimizing your cloud-based networks and applications.

See for yourself how Kentik can help you see and managage all parts of your network—from data center, to container, to cloud: Request a demo or sign up for a free trial today.

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