SDN and NFV transforming the network: where do we go from here?

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Software defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV) are two of the most disruptive technologies to hit our industry for some time. They give organizations unprecedented levels of control and management over their network and the opportunity to deploy network functions as needed. Through SDN and NFV, businesses can benefit from improved simplicity, agility, flexibility and end-user experience.

But are organizations ready for SDN and NFV? And what is the state of the market today?

Current state of play

It is clear that SDN and NFV are really great developments and will embed themselves into network strategies, providing big benefits in both the short and long term. But in the early days, as with most new technologies, it is important to ensure you have the right resources, infrastructure and skills in place to ease deployment and maximize benefits.

Current market estimates vary, but what is apparent is that SDN and NFV are on a very healthy growth path. In its latest NFV Hardware, Software, and Services Annual Market Report, IHS Markit predicts a growth rate of 42 percent CAGR from 2015 to 2020 and a combined revenue of SDN, NFV and other next-generation networking initiatives of more than $15 billion per year by 2020.

Changing networks requires changing skills

This disruption to the traditional network also impacts staffing, because you will need the right skills in place when considering SDN and NFV. For example, traditional network engineers will need to switch from using command line and programming changes to employing a browser and a graphical user interface (GUI) to manage and allocate network functions and resources.

Engineers’ focus is likely to move from a device Command-Line Interface (CLI) level to a much broader scope that may impact the whole network and include multiple functions, including security, traffic optimization and monitoring. As a result, network engineers may need to re-train to take on a broader responsibility area that includes a considerable increase in both functional and geographical scope. Standardization of configurations and security policies will be key to making this a successful transition, and it is something organizations have to manage carefully to ensure they have the right skillsets in place.

How to maximize SDN and NFV benefits

One of the aims of SDN and NFV is to enable IT teams to introduce services in faster, more automated ways, and be able to scale up or scale down and adapt network resources for specific tasks at particular times. The end result is to deliver an enhanced and consistent quality of experience (QoE) to end-users wherever they are and whenever they want it.

This flexibility is key. The continuing rise of cloud, mobile, Big Data and IoT in the enterprise requires networks that are smart enough and elastic enough to support all these digital transformation initiatives. Late last year, for example, Orange introduced its Easy Go Network, an SDN offering covering 75 countries, designed to help companies instantly provision branch offices with virtual network functions (VNF) using a simple portal and a plug-and-play router on site.

Deploying SDN in the wide area network (WAN) empowers branch offices to get the most out of the flexibility it offers. In addition SDN and NFV is an important first step along the road to Network as a Service (NaaS). Here are some tips to help you maximize your efforts.

1.     Know what you want to do. Initially SDN was targeted at data centers, but today organizations are recognizing the benefits of SDN and NFV in the enterprise WAN. Ask yourself what else you need? Do you want a centralized or distributed control plane? Do you want to implement additional SDN applications like analytics and packet monitoring? Establish what you want to achieve and what you are ready to utilize, determine your objectives and only then deploy. Standardization to start with!

2.     Ensure you have strong security policies in place from day one. By deploying a range of VNFs that are security-based you can ensure a consistent state of security across your whole network. The centralized nature of SDN means you can keep all security software up to date across all sites; and that centralized format also means you can enjoy central control of all your security tools.

3.     Experience counts. You should always look to work with a partner that has the necessary software expertise combined with detailed knowledge and experience of networks.

4.     Draw up a roadmap. SDN in the WAN means enjoying the benefits of both automation and simplified management that SDN offers. It also impacts other enterprise IT trends like SaaS, private cloud, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), mobility and more. Running these tools in the WAN requires quality links and also high levels of security, lower latency, higher reliability and good levels of support for any device in any location. So before you start, plan out what tools and systems you intend to bring in along the way and allow for supporting them.

5.     Start getting ready for NaaS. We have seen many XaaS (anything-as-a-service) offerings so far, from software to infrastructure – networking is next. Enterprises will increasingly need to on-board and launch new services, third party offerings and enhanced network facilities for end-users. With SDN and NFV paving the way in terms of on-demand network functions, NaaS will ultimately allow IT departments to reduce time spent on network and datacenter management, giving them more time for increasing business productivity and customer experience.

SDN and NFV offer all kinds of potential to the networking industry. Being able to simplify and virtualize networking equipment, while also improving programmability and control means greater possibilities for the enterprise. But it is important to make sure you are ready to take the first step forward and have everything you need to help you succeed. Get the right building blocks in place and you can truly unlock the potential of SDN.

SDN gives enterprises real-time visibility and control over end-to-end IT systems and the ability to upscale and downscale network resources on demand.  Read more about how SDN can help your business here.

Marcel van Wort

Marcel is a Managing Consultant, CISSP-ISSAP and ISO27K Lead Auditor certified. Specialised in IT Security and Unified Communications at Orange Business Services in Amsterdam since 1998. Marcel has more than 28 years experience in the Electronics, Offshore and the IT industry where he fulfilled roles in Electronic Engineering, Project Management, Operational Management, Quality Management, Managed Security development, Compliancy and Consultancy Risk Assessments.