Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) have exploded over the telco technology horizon in the past 18 months, surprising many with the speed at which interest has evolved and spread.
Neither is wholly new, however, and it's important to note that this is the culmination of a long effort to break up vertical proprietary stacks in telecom technology. The principles underlying both have begun to appear in some form in network standards and software over the past three to four years, priming the market for this major change.
In a previous report on this subject published in August 2012, SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem, Heavy Reading defined SDN as: "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."
This idea was foreshadowed in IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) and the architecture it inspired, in which the three-layer model of data plane, control plane and applications plane set out in SDN is also present. A key idea behind IMS was modularization of network functions so that operators could buy best-of-breed product for each function. SDN effectively takes this one step further.
According to the original NFV white paper, NFV aims to address various problems by "leveraging standard IT virtualisation technology to consolidate many network equipment types onto industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage, which could be located in Datacentres, Network Nodes and in the end user premises... [NFV] is applicable to any data plane packet processing and control plane function in fixed and mobile network infrastructures."
Again, this was beginning to happen even before the NFV group was formed. For example, many vendors, especially of control and application layer products, have already shifted from proprietary platforms to commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based hardware that uses Intel x86 processors. All the same, both SDN and NFV potentially push the key objectives much further, and presage a new paradigm in which telecom technology gradually merges with mainstream IT, where virtualization and programmability are already widespread.
SDN & NFV: A Revolution in the Making presents Heavy Reading's current thinking regarding SDN and NFV from a variety of perspectives, leveraging contributions from five Heavy Reading senior analysts. The report analyzes network operator plans and attitudes toward SDN and NFV; explores the implications of SDN and OpenFlow on optical networking technology; examines the orchestration and management layers that will be critical to the success of NFV and SDN; and details the impact of SDN on application delivery controllers (ADCs) in the data center.
The report is partially based on two major surveys conducted by Heavy Reading over the past six months. In the first survey, we interviewed 27 senior executives and strategists working at 18 network operators - mainly large Tier 1 operators, but also some smaller operators, especially in the enterprise/wholesale sector - to gauge opinions and plans for SDN and NFV. In the second survey, we sought the views of operator members of Heavy Reading's Ethernet & SDN Executive Council, including CTOs, VPs of network engineering and executives in product marketing and management.
Despite all the industry buzz around SDN, only 13 percent of respondents indicated that they expect SDN to significantly impact the competitive landscape for Ethernet, IP or wavelength services before the end of 2014. And nearly one fifth were hesitant to even make a guess when this would happen, as shown in the excerpt below.
Excerpt 1: When Will SDN Be Widely Adopted to the Point That It
Significantly Impacts the Competitive Landscape for Services?
Source: Heavy Reading
One issue dividing vendors is whether an ADC will evolve into an SDN controller product in its own right or be integrated with an SDN controller. That is, must the SDN controller be a standalone, single point of control, or should SDN function be integrated in other products that have better visibility of application execution, to support service chaining? The service chaining approach, as shown in the excerpt below, enables the operator to bypass network functions that are not required for a particular service, increasing network efficiency and setting the stage for optimizing personalized service call flows.
Excerpt 2: Generic SDN Service Chaining Architecture
Source: Heavy Reading
SDN & NFV: A Revolution in the Making includes contributions from five Heavy Reading senior analysts, each of whom offers a perspective on SDN and NFV 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, Graham Finnie and Stan Hubbard look at network operator plans and attitudes, drawing on two major surveys conducted by Heavy Reading over the past six months.
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.
In Section IV, Caroline Chappell looks at the orchestration and management layers that will be critical to the success of NFV and carrier SDN.
In Section V, Jim Hodges examines the impact of SDN on ADCs in the data center.
SDN & NFV: A Revolution in the Making is published in PDF format.