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Advances in network software, specifically software-defined networking and network functions virtualization, provide the ability for communications service providers to significantly transform their networks over the next five years (and beyond). SDN and NFV technologies are synergistic, and they offer improved programmability, faster service enablement and lower CAPEX/OPEX for CSPs.
Benefits of SDN for CSPs
SDN provides for separation of the control and data plane where the intelligence of the network (e.g. switch or router) is split from the packet forwarding engine. This separation provides opportunities to program the network at various points (i.e. Layers 1-3). For example, a number of optical network vendors (including Ciena, BTI Systems, Infinera and Cyan) leverage SDN to improve the programmability and operations of their optical network gear.
SDN also impacts the way CSPs build and operate their data center/cloud networks, giving them the ability to deploy low-cost white box switches that use independent network operating systems from the following:
Service provider benefits of NFV
NFV is an initiative driven by several dozen large telecom service providers to increase the use of virtualization and commercial servers in their networks. NFV leverages IT technologies, including virtualization, standard servers and open software to fundamentally change the way networks are built and operated. The key benefits that CSPs will derive from NFV implementation include faster time to market, new services enablement, ability to rapidly scale resources up and down, and lower costs (both CAPEX and OPEX).
Impact of Commercial Platforms (COTS)
COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) stands for industry standard servers (e.g., Intel), merchant silicon (e.g., Broadcom and Cavium), and standard operating systems (e.g., Red Hat and VMware). Advances in IT technology, including more powerful processors (e.g., Intel x86 and Cavium), faster switching fabrics (e.g. 100GB), and advances in network software (e.g., SDN and NFV) have brought a wealth of network functions in scope for COTS. COTS and NFV proponents hope to virtualize a wide range of network elements, including:
SDN and NFV investments
The combined advantages of SDN and NFV are the driving force behind the transformation the networking industry. The advantage of agile software running on COTS is already making significant inroads on the traditional custom-designed network equipment. SDN and NFV have already attracted significant investments, including the following:
- Dozens of independent software vendors virtualizing a wide range of network elements, including Affirmed, Brocade, Connectem, Edgewater, Metaswitch, Overture, 6Wind and Viptela.
- SDN and NFV initiatives from many of the largest networking equipment incumbents -- including Ericsson, Cisco, Huawei, Alcatel-Lucent and Juniper Networks.
- NFV programs from the leading IT suppliers, including HP, Dell, Intel/Wind River, Oracle and Red Hat.
Future SDN/NFV Outlook
Leading CSPs having implemented pilot projects with SDN and NFV software running on COTS hardware. These investments in network software will continue to expand as SDN and NFV deployments prove their value in terms of new revenue and cost savings.
SDN and NFV will need to coexist with traditional switches, routers and optical equipment that use custom silicon to deliver ultra-high performance throughput (packet processing and forwarding). The networks of the future will see hybrid designs of specialized hardware combined with more and more SDN and NFV elements.
Over the next few years, large service providers will explore and start to implement a range of SDN and NFV technologies on COTS platforms comprising a wide variety of use cases. Within five years, SDN/NFV will be the mainstream option for service providers deploying cloud and network architectures.
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