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SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem

Software-defined networking (SDN) is fast emerging as a significant building block for next-generation carrier services and networks. The quick ascent of SDN now has the telecom industry engaged in a bit of a scramble to assess exactly what SDN is (and isn't), what its deployment will mean for carrier networks, and how and where SDN will be used first in telecom networks.

SDN is an architectural concept that encompasses the programmability of multiple network layers - including management, network services, control, forwarding and transport planes - to optimize the use of network resources, increase network agility, unleash service innovation, accelerate service time-to-market, extract business intelligence and ultimately enable dynamic, service-driven virtual networks.

The concept of SDN emerged as a major discussion topic in carrier circles earlier this year and is now rapidly working its way into presentations and other marketing material of numerous service providers, network solutions suppliers and testing companies. Many established and new industry players have offered opinions about what SDN is, why SDN is important and how SDN works.

Although a lot remains to be sorted out regarding SDN, it's critical at this stage to gain a basic understanding of SDN and why it's viewed as a potential game-changer for telecom networks. No doubt SDN is a topic that will require significant research and analysis in the coming months.

‘SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem’ presents Heavy Reading's current thinking regarding SDN from four specific perspectives:

  • SDN in carrier transport networks (including the likely path of SDN through the standards process)
  • The importance of SDN and OpenFlow to optical networking
  • The role of SDN in cloud-based services
  • The use of SDN technology in carrier data centers to optimize application delivery

Clearly, SDN is likely to have an impact on other parts of the telecom ecosystem, but Heavy Reading has defined these four areas as the ones that bear closest watching by its clients. Future reports will address other aspects of SDN's role in the telecom ecosystem.

There is no common agreement among industry players about what SDN is and how much of the network SDN applies to. Opinions generally fall into one of two camps: a concept officially supported by the Open Networking Foundation (ONF) that is centered on a centralized control plane, and a broader evolutionary concept advocated by vendors within the IETF that encompasses software programmability at multiple network layers.

Excerpt 1: ONF Perspective - Software-Defined Network Architecture

Source: ONF

Conceptually, SDN possesses several core attributes that could be of significant value in the process to redefine and optimize the data center. In large part, this progression is driven by the recognition among carriers that data centers need to become much more scalable and cost-efficient. There is thus considerable interest in moving beyond software virtualization in a standalone, single-site model, and leveraging a cloud-based model that not only optimizes scalability exponentially, but also optimizes server resources on a global vs. site-specific scale.

Excerpt 2: Traditional vs. Cloud Data Center

Source: Heavy Reading

Report Scope & Structure

‘SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem’ includes contributions from four Heavy Reading senior analysts, each of whom offers a perspective on SDN as it pertains to his or her technology coverage area.

Section I is an introduction to the report, with complete report key findings.

In Section II, Stan Hubbard focuses on SDN's likely role in telecom transport networks.

In Section III, Sterling Perrin covers the implications of SDN and OpenFlow on optical networking technology, with an emphasis on the future of the optical control plane and GMPLS.

In Section IV, Caroline Chappell addresses the potential role of SDN in the cloud services realm.

In Section V, Jim Hodges offers his views into SDN's potential role in carrier data centers.

SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem is published in PDF format.

Table of Contents



  • 1.1. Key Findings
  • 1.2. Report Scope & Structure


  • 2.1. SDNs Importance to Carrier Services & Networks
  • 2.2. The Current Network Problem
  • 2.3. Benefits of a New Architectural Approach
  • 2.4. SDN Standards Activity
    • Open Networking Forum
    • IETF
    • ITU-T
    • MEF
  • 2.5. Current Status of SDN in Carrier Networks
  • 2.6. Projected Development of SDN in Carrier Networks


  • 3.1. The Importance of SDN/OpenFlow in Optical Transport
  • 3.2. ASON/GMPLS Shortcomings
  • 3.3. The Problem(s) With OpenFlow
  • 3.4. An Alternate Evolution: Separating OpenFlow & SDN
  • 3.5. Potential Impact of SDN on the Supplier Ecosystem


  • 4.1. Why Is SDN Important to the Cloud?
  • 4.2. SDN & Cloud Today
  • 4.3. SDN &the Future of Cloud
  • 4.4. Impact of SDN on the Cloud Supplier Ecosystem


  • 5.1. The End of Autonomic Data Centers
    • Finding Common Virtualized Ground: Application Control & Customization
  • 5.2. Enhanced Policy & Routing
    • Security
  • 5.3. SDN Vendor Impacts - Hold the Secret Sauce?
    • Market Equilibrium: Balance vs. Breakthrough
    • Product Evolution Software Programmability & Pricing






  • Figure 2.1: ONE Perspective - Software-Defined Network Architecture


  • Figure 3.1: PCE vs. Legacy Control Plane Implementation



  • Figure 5.1: Traditional vs. Cloud Data Center
  • Figure 5.2: SDN & Cloud Control Plane
  • Figure 5.3: SDN Policy Rules Framework
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