The importance of standardization for the SDN family

Software defined networking (SDN) is one of the most innovative networking architectures to come along in a while, but its lack of mature standards is making for a very complex environment for enterprises to buy into.

SDN is an architectural as opposed to a product approach that provides centralized control of complex networks and helps to deliver deployment flexibility in the cloud, in the network or in branch offices depending on each service expectations.

By implementing a common SDN layer, enterprises can manage their networks and devices consistently and holistically, despite the complexity and heterogeneity of underlying network technologies. Its ability to allow for network customization, support for cloud services adoption and metered usage have all been prominent factors in enterprises seeking out SDN.

SDN is on a very healthy growth path with Global Market Insights predicting the market will cross $88 billion by 2024. But lack of standardization is now becoming a real issue.

Today, standards are not mature, thus delivering SDN and SD-WAN is a major challenge. The landscape is big with many new elements coming in around SDN, such as “network control” or “service on boarding and orchestration,” that are not yet fully standardized. This makes for a very complex network picture.

Open standards smooth the integration process, allow applications to work together seamlessly and simplify network design. But SDN vendors are still busy jostling for pole position. All the suppliers are trying to put their solutions in this new landscape. Attempting to align all these vendors to the same standards is a very difficult task. In addition, mooted standards have been slow to emerge, which has held back offerings.

Open SDN

The industry is fast realizing there is a lack of clarity. Variants in the market inevitably increase complexity and drive up costs for customers. Organizations such as the LFN (Linux Foundation networking), ETSI (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) and IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) are looking to identify common platforms that can be deployed across multiple operators who can all benefit from shared investment while driving the technologies to a wider audience. These standards will be key to interoperability going forward.

ETSI, for example, has just released details on reference designs, with VNF packages and descriptors to help service providers leverage the power of SDN and Network Function Virtualization (NFV).

The Linux Foundation networking (LFN) drives on-demand network transformation efforts around new projects such as ONAP for Network Automation, OPNFV for NFV infrastructure and testing tools, and Opendaylight for SDN network controllers.

The SD-WAN lock in

SD-WAN further muddies the waters. SD-WAN represents an important move towards software-based network automation for many enterprises – but it is being hobbled by a lack of multi-vendor interoperability.

SD-WAN, with its roots in SDN, simplifies remote branch office networks and optimizes application performance using the Internet and hybrid WAN. It provides scalability, flexibility, centralized control and monitoring and the promise of reduced WAN costs.

But each vendor comes to the party with their own proprietary SD-WAN controller and management plane. This means that once an enterprise has opted for an SD-WAN vendor, they can’t deploy a device from another SD-WAN vendor without using their centralized control and management planes. It is impossible to mix vendors in the same way that can be done with the SDN story, for example, to “chain” a security appliance from one vendor with the routing appliance of another vendor.

This is undoubtedly slowing customers buying into SD-WAN who are looking for openness. If it is not a priority, however, they can get it today from an SD-WAN vendor and have it delivered as a closed, proprietary system. If enterprises want to use SD-WAN over an SDN platform, capacity can be created for a more open solution using this shared infrastructure.

The road to mature standards

Today it’s a big challenge for enterprises as they are dealing with ad hoc standardization. Where standards are lacking or immature, vendors are busy trying to push their solutions – making for a complex and expensive integration process.

Due to the lack of standardization, we encourage suppliers to on-board their solutions at our integration centers to identify potential interlocking issues and promote solutions based on published open software application programming interfaces (APIs), which play a key role in the shift to programmable networks.

Standards bodies and the industry, however, must work together to define the right standards and interfaces to create an agile way of interconnecting and delivering solutions. If we don’t, it will be very difficult to provide and operate the services customers demand.


Are you ready for SD-WAN? Find out in our network maturity profiler or download our guide to SD-WAN and digital transformation.

François Bertret
François Bertret

As the head of SDN/NFV for Orange Business, François is leading the whole transformation program to move network managed services towards programmable and on-demand networks. He is responsible for developing Orange Business strategy, end-to-end network and IT architecture, execution plan and deployment, in close cooperation with other group functions such as Operations and OSS/BSS teams. François has more than 20 years of experience in the telecom industry and managed network services