Traditional networks depend on installing multiple physical devices at enterprise premises or data centers to support these critical business processes. Separate boxes, each with a finite capacity, are required to handle tasks such as switching, routing, balancing traffic loads across access links, providing employees with access to the enterprise’s Virtual Private Network (VPN), securing sensitive data, accelerating business critical traffic and optimizing how applications and the network itself is performing.
In this age of virtualization, cloud services and rapid innovation, this can create a real management headache. It takes too long to provision new branch offices with the connectivity and security they need, and scale those services to keep pace with business demand. Furthermore, IT performance levels can vary massively between locations around the world, meaning that employees at offices based far away from the datacenter often have to wait for cloud applications to open and data to save, something that can also impact the customer’s service experience.
One of the most attractive features of SDN is its on-demand nature. When built using open standards and open source software, 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. It is closely related to Network Functions Virtualization (NFV).
NFV enables enterprises to replace proprietary hardware that is dedicated to a specific task with open software running on generic servers. Multiple network functions can be virtually provisioned on a single box, often referred to as universal Customer Premise Equipment, or in the cloud, and scaled up or down on demand without the need for on-site staff. Furthermore, SDN’s programmability means enterprises can control the speed, latency, security and reliability they need to support different business work streams on a cost-effective basis.
SDN and NFV are already helping Orange customers be more agile. For example, a financial services customer in Africa needed to set up new branch office sites quickly, ensuring they had high performance, cost-effective connectivity without sacrificing their ability to apply their global security policies at these locations.
Geraldine Chhuon, Director of strategic planning, projects and geomarketing at Orange Business Services, comments, “Bandwidth costs are high in Africa and enterprises have to ship a lot of kit onto their sites, including specialist appliances for accessing their Local Area Network. For our financial services customer, this was becoming prohibitively expensive. The ability to use SDN/NFV to provision cost-effective Internet connectivity on demand and increase security levels during high-risk periods, was extremely beneficial.”
Logistics is complex in many countries. Specialist IT equipment is often delayed in customs and incurs high import duties. This makes getting sites connected a long and expensive process. SDN means one server will be needed in branch office sites and this can be procured more easily on a local basis. Multiple networks can then be activated remotely on-demand in a matter of minutes.
Another real world use case cited by Chhuon involves network bandwidth management. “Consider an insurance company that needs to back up large amounts of sensitive customer information between data centers each Monday. They can use SDN to automatically up-scale the network bandwidth to 50Mbps on a temporary basis rather than provisioning for peak usage all week long.” This is another way in the on-demand nature of SDN actually saves companies money.
SDN and NFV are ushering in the era of the Network as a Service (NaaS). It will be possible for IT teams to manage a growing arrange of network services via a unified self-service portal or through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that directly connect into their IT systems. These are services they can order, activate, configure and monitor directly themselves or with support of their Communication Service Provider.
With virtualization, IT can proactively support digital transformation initiatives. They will no longer need to be on the back foot, responding to the challenge of supporting new digital programs initiated by business functions like production, sales, marketing, finance and engineering. Instead they can be the central partner in and coordinator of change.
The SDN market is forecast to reach $132.9 billion by 2022, growing at a rapid CAGR of 47 per cent from 2016 to 2022. “It is a totally different way of consuming network features and functions”, continues Chuuon. “And to customers it answers their long-term needs. SDN will give organizations something they have wanted for so long but which was not available with fixed function, fixed capacity hardware, which could never be as flexible.”