The Impact on Your IT Department of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

Joel Stradling
Joel Stradling

Summary Bullets:

  • NFV will dramatically reduce the number of expensive hardware appliances that carriers and large enterprises need to deploy throughout the data centre and network
  • Instead of so many hardware boxes, networks will be able to deploy cheap-as-dirt high volume server infrastructure with VMs running on top to replace all those functions previously occupied by hardware
  • SDN promises control of the network fabric with more of this control extending to the enterprise in due course

SDN and NFV are garnering attention in the industry with exciting benefits being promised to consumers of network and IT services. The longer term view of NFV is that VMs running network applications on mass-market low cost server infrastructure will replace expensive dedicated appliances. The implication of this for owners of extensive network and data centre infrastructure is ultimately far lower costs, since adding VMs on servers means procuring cheap-as-mud standard servers as opposed to far more expensive dedicated equipment such as switches, routers, deep packet inspection boxes, firewalls and session border controllers. Moreover the amount of technical and engineering support required to manage significantly virtualized network components such as  CDN, carrier grade NAT, and other services, is far less because provisioning and on-going management is automated and managed by customers is supplied using a client facing dashboard. This is a futuristic view, and we anticipate such possibilities from 2014 and beyond. 

SDN is slightly different, in that it relates to the network control plane and is currently of highest interest to carriers aiming to lower their OpEx. However we are at an inflection point in the market with SDN extending out to end users who will also benefit from new levels of WAN control that SDN implies. Currently SDN is useful in the data centre LAN environment, but is being pushed out to the LAN edge and to the WAN. Benefits to the enterprise IT department depend very much upon API development, which we see as the means to empower end users with more control over parts of the WAN fabric. NTT Communications is the first carrier we know of to announce SDN features and functions to its end user network customers. It recently announced on June 27, 2013, a SDN-enabled cloud migration service named ‘On-premises Connection’ (in a partnership with VMware) is scheduled to launch July 28th to domestic Japanese enterprise customers and eventually to markets outside of Japan. To avail themselves of the offering, clients need to an install NTT Communications’ SDN-compliant gateway whereupon the carrier states that customers can easily process the workloads of adjusting network equipment settings and IP addresses in both servers and clients to perform migration of services to the NTT Communications cloud. To further illustrate this, On-premises Connection lets the end-user adjust bandwidth to transfer large data in off-peak hours according to need. So there you have it, overall SDN and NFV promise to lower costs and empower the user granting flexibility to control virtual IT resources and to manage the network fabric.


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