Looking Back and Ahead, Commercial SDN/NFV Offers Hit Full Steam in 2015

B. Washburn
B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • 2015 was a big year for more operators making more SDN/NFV-enabled services available, reaching more places.
  • SDN and NFV promise efficiencies of virtualization and dynamic bandwidth, but the technologies provide many ancillary benefits as well.

For companies interested in dynamic networks and network virtualization, 2015 was a banner year. While network function virtualization (NFV)-powered services had already begun gaining ground (just two examples are NTT Com and CenturyLink), dynamic bandwidth provisioning was still limited. Verizon (with Dynamic Bandwidth for Private IP), Level 3 (with former tw telecom’s Adaptive Network Control) and Masergy (with Intelligent Service Control) were established competitors. AT&T had just begun introducing its SDN-powered Network on Demand service in its local service footprint. Telstra’s PEN remained an Asia-region network.

Among the big push in 2015 from U.S. providers in customer-facing SDN were AT&T and Level 3. AT&T has set an ambitious H1 2016 global roll-out schedule for a next-generation central office stack, which it has described as “Central Office Re-architected as Data Center” (CORD); it also has quickly spread availability of its Network on Demand product across its footprint. Level 3 is deploying its Adaptive Network Control service globally: Where it owns access in the U.S. it can offer dynamic end-to-end bandwidth, bundling access and long-haul. Among international players, Telstra extended its PEN dynamic network globally, adding PoPs in the U.S. and Europe. Colt recently launched its DCnet dynamic bandwidth service connecting data centers. NTT Com continues steadily to ramp up an advanced SDN/NFV portfolio.

What’s next? Distributed NFV services, in the form of managed virtual CPE (vCPE), is starting to happen. Masergy launched a vCPE offer in 2015, as part of a repositioning of its managed services portfolio. NTT Com has been building experience working with vCPE since 2014; Telefonica also has an established vCPE technology trial; and global vCPE availability is part of AT&T’s ambitious upgrade plans.

From our conversations with large enterprises, many feel they don’t need services that give them dynamic bandwidth or virtualized network functions yet — but they shouldn’t be so quick to pass up the practical benefits of these technologies. They can provision faster, which can mean less chance of something going wrong, or a quick fix in case of a provisioning mismatch. The technologies offer near-real-time granular visibility network-wide by default: The customer needs to see just what’s happening in the network, whether or not they want real-time bandwidth controls.

Enterprises not thinking about vCPE might want to take a look for other reasons: The managed box plus licensed software means simple (virtual) device moves, adds, changes and reconfigurations. vCPE intrinsically swaps sunk hardware capex for recurring (software licensing) opex. Downloading software can bypass international customs holdups and pricey import tariffs. And comprehensive remote management means fewer truck rolls. Finally, those virtual network devices can also go places that physical hardware just can’t, such as inside a third-party cloud environment.

There are many ancillary benefits to these technologies for enterprises, and the business case for them continues to become more concrete over time.

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