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2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes

There's no question (at least in my mind) that software defined network (SDN) and its close cousin, network functions virtualization (NFV), were the big stories of 2012 in telecommunications technology – and not much doubt, either, that they will continue to be the big stories of 2013. But before we can predict they will also be the big success story, an awful lot of detail must be sorted out: We are far from being able to declare definitively that SDN and NFV represent the future of networking technology.

Here are ten challenges that must be resolved if SDN and NFV are to fully realize their huge promise:

  1. How will SDN be integrated with, OSS and BSS systems?
    Presently, this is a big black hole with nothing much in it, but given the legacy that exists in every major telco, it's the biggest unanswered question in the SDN story.

  2. How will the new environment be orchestrated?
    There's a general recognition that an orchestration layer of some kind is required, but will this be accomplished by operators themselves, by vendor proprietary schemes, on the back of open source schemes such as OpenStack or through a new set of standards?

  3. What's the relationship between NFV and SDN?
    Some operators believe that NFV can bring benefits without using SDN (or at least Openflow) – others believe that they are joined at the hip. In 2013, we will see the first fruits of NFV, and with it the beginnings of an answer to this question.

  4. What's the relationship between SDN, NFV and the various telco cloud programs?
    Again, some telcos are trying to ensure that the three developments are coordinated, but though there clearly is a relationship, there's no defined roadmap for how it's constructed.

  5. How far will the ONF be the prime location for SDN development?
    Other initiatives already underway include the IETF's ForCES work, but such is the significance of SDN that we can expect other major industry organizations to get involved too.

  6. Will operators really take the plunge and replace proprietary hardware with generic Ethernet switches and generic industry-standard servers?
    Some already say yes, but when push comes to shove, will the famously conservative network engineering teams agree?

  7. Equally, how will major suppliers respond?
    Despite bold statements from some telcos, few will likely bet the network on start-up vendors, and will likely be dependent on their major suppliers for some time yet. But will those suppliers respond boldly to the new requirements or drag their feet?

  8. How hybrid is hybrid, and for how long?
    The ONF is working on a standard hybrid switch solution, but it's not yet clear what it will look like and whether big established vendors (some of whom already are touting their own hybrid solutions) will play along.

  9. Where will telcos start with NFV and SDN?
    Few, if any, expect a big bang – instead they will likely replace or augment existing networks and functions piece by piece. In its white paper, the NFV group sets out a long list of functions that might lend themselves to virtualization. But where will telcos start, and will they all start in the same place?

  10. Can telcos resolve the many rivalries and tensions among their departments and divisions in a way that enables them to fully realize the benefits?
    This brings us full circle, since the OSS question is right at the heart of this dilemma. Can the gap between IT and networks be bridged in an environment where some functions and divisions may disappear altogether?

It's a long list that raises legitimate questions about the timing of the transition, and it's in the nature of these developments that this list is far from definitive; there are many others.

Making things worse, these questions must be answered in a rapidly evolving environment that may soon include some highly disruptive network service providers using all the principles of SDN to usurp the major telcos and their businesses.

Despite the uncertainties, we should not doubt that the underlying principles of SDN and developments associated are truly revolutionary, and represent perhaps the most exciting potential change in telecommunications technology since IP hit telcos big-time in the mid-1990s. If SDN really delivers, we may find ourselves reversing John Gage's famous 1984 aphorism that the network is the computer; instead, we may see the computer (aka the server, aka the data center ...) becoming the network. As one SDN revolutionary put it in conversation, "Our aim is to make the network disappear."

The stakes could hardly be higher, and we will likely see big fortunes made and big companies lost in the coming transition. Heavy Reading has been following all the key developments closely, and has already published its initial thinking in Multicore Processors Drive the Software-Defined Network: A Heavy Reading Competitive Analysis. And to kick off 2013, we plan a special webinar in early January in which the team will further elaborate its views on SDN, NFV and their potential impact. Look out for that invitation, and in the mean time, a happy New Year from all at Heavy Reading!

— Graham Finnie, Chief Analyst, Heavy Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
1/5/2013 | 2:03:27 AM
re: 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

I guess the here key point is "Will operators really take the plunge and replace proprietary hardware with generic Ethernet switches and generic industry-standard servers?"

A network service provider's major revenues come from 1) Layer 1/0 Private line - (Eth over)SDH/OTN/WDM/fiber, 2) Layer 2 MPLS(-TP) VPN/WAN and 3) Layer 3 IP transit service contracts. There are specialized technologies for providing these contract services. (Generic) Ethernet switches do not allow implementing any of these contract types, whether or not 'software defined' via industry-standard servers.

Where the push comes to shove is when having to answer the question: Does SDN enable providing the network contracts per above with same or better quality, but at substantially lower cost (and why would that fundamentally be the case)?

User Rank: Light Beer
1/5/2013 | 2:03:23 AM
re: 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

shouldn't large enterprises be consider as early adapters?

looks like native generic switches are more suitable for such enterprises than to telcos, isn't it?

looks like telcos are very conservative and it will require some time and more evidences before they will adopt such a revolution.


User Rank: Light Beer
1/5/2013 | 2:03:22 AM
re: 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

Great way to sum up the issue. You have specialized gear for a reason -- there is big money associated with providing services in a predictable, redundant way with lots of reporting. Can you do this with generic hardware, better software integration and SDN as a controller? Yes or, at least, I bet we're pretty close.

If I were an SP, I don't know if I'd be the first in the pool. Specialized hardware has its place. My smartphone takes a good snapshot but my DSLR is the BEST camera. 

This reminds me of how much guff carrier Ethernet got vs. TDM in its early years. Eventually the specialized service cost too much to provide vs. the commodity service that could do all the same things as TDM.

How close are we to seeing that same thing with SDN in some applications?

User Rank: Light Beer
1/5/2013 | 2:03:20 AM
re: 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

There is an important undercurrent here however: the need for reduced latencies and jitter (as well as, for certain applications, rock solid reliability and security).

The delay variations (jitter) increase unavoidably when doing packet level switching at each node, as in case of Ethernet. Moreover, when mixing different customers/users' traffic at packet level on same shared switches, there are the everything affects everything problems hurting QoS and causing security concerns. For these reasons, circuit switching T/WDM (either in form of SDH, OTN or direct WDM) has to be used instead of packet switching (eg Ethernet VLANs etc) for latency/jitter critical applications such as networking for high frequency trading and for high quality streaming media transport.

Importantly, the need for latency/jitter minimization is becoming essential for increasingly wide range of applications, eg streaming big data realtime analytics/intelligence and interactive multimedia applications. Multi-user shared packet switching is not a good network technology for these (high revenue) applications.

That is not to say that there could not be 'commodity' hardware that can be managed via vendor-neutral open standard interface from the SP's NMS servers. However that commodity hardware needs to have advanced L1/0 capabilities underneath the packet switched protocol layers to be performance-wise competitive vs vendor-specific NMS+equipment technologies.

In particular I could see a market opportunity for (SDN-managed) pure play L2 MPLS-TP LSR product integrated with L1/0 VPN capabilities. Naturally such technology can be offered also via the IaaS model, ie, contract networks as a service.

User Rank: Light Beer
1/5/2013 | 2:03:16 AM
re: 2012 Belonged to SDN & NFV. But Will They Deliver in 2013?

Using Ethernet it is fully possible to deliver predictable latency with end-to-end jitter in the ns range. OTN and SDH is not required for this purpose.

1) Gigabit Ethernet services can be aggregated/de-aggregated into 10 Gigabit Ethernet pipes with low latency and jitter below 400 ns.

2)  Traffic can be added from gigabit client interfaces onto a 10 Gigabit Ethernet pipe, still with low predictable latency and jitter below 100 ns on the 10G.

Look to TransPacket for more details:

Hence, SDN will not inhibit services with OTN and SDH (circuit switched) type of requirement.

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