Light Reading

SDN: Start Making Sense

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

Very few – if any – days have gone by over the past few months in which the relative merits of software-defined networking (SDN) have not been publicly debated.

As we note in the latest Heavy Reading report, "SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem," the debate is likely to increase in the near future given the potential impact for both carriers and vendors.

Conceptually, SDN and the approach of separating the control plane from the data plane present a strong value proposition. And while this approach has long been adopted in other parts of the network (session border controllers and IMS core), it does hold the promise to revolutionize and break new ground on the way data transport networks function.

Here's a quick take on the factors and unanswered questions that ultimately will determine if SDN becomes a truly transformative force in telecom, or if it ends up being something that achieves reasonable facsimile status in that it effected change, but ultimately not within scope of the original vision.

On the transformative potential side, there are these two points:

Point 1: SDN-based initiatives such as OpenFlow are being driven by the carrier in response to real-world requirements. This is an important factor given that it highlights a view that the status quo approach of "pseudo" open tools and software applications is too costly, too inflexible and ultimately no longer sustainable.

Point 2: SDN brings some much-needed simplicity to an overly complex world. Given the impact of moving applications to the cloud and the requirement to introduce policy control for application access and security, networks are going to increase in complexity on many levels, and any approach that has the potential to minimize or reduce that complexity is highly desirable. Support of a distributed control plane model is no longer a viable approach.

On the less-than-meets-the-eye side, we have:

Point 1: It's difficult to implement a concept. Despite all the recent activity in the various industry forums, SDN is still largely in the first phase of industry adoption. As a result, it's really difficult to assess where it will be in even the next few years once the real product development work starts to take place. Further complicating the process is that even though OpenFlow, an SDN protocol implementation, clearly has some early market momentum, other approaches exist and more could emerge. For example, in our report we analyze how the IETF's Path Computation Element (PCE) specification may be a more practical approach to take for carrier SDN optical deployments. The question then becomes whether SDN can achieve meaningful cost savings and programmability openness if a number of protocols/specifications that follow a similar methodology are adopted on a global basis.

Point 2: We still don't know what vendors really think about SDN. This is a difficult question and ultimately depends on vendor competitive standing and market momentum. Therefore, vendors will have to tread very carefully as they define their SDN strategies to protect market share while also appearing as aligned to the spirit of SDN and not simply integrating SDN associated buzzwords like programmability into marketing campaigns. This dilemma is further complicated by uncertainty of how licensing of control plane clients associated with approaches such as OpenFlow will be priced.

A lot remains to be sorted out regarding SDN, including potential for success as a game-changer for telecom networks. Over the next 12 months, a number of critical developments both at a vendor and forum level will provide a much better picture of SDN's ultimate impact on the telecom industry.

— Jim Hodges, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

For more information about Heavy Reading's SDN & the Future of the Telecom Ecosystem, please contact:

(1)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View        ADD A COMMENT
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:23:42 PM
re: SDN: Start Making Sense

In networks, the events to be controlled, ie packet traffic flows and/or collective bursts caused by individual flows have their natural granularity of in the range of just a kilobit or less, which at eg 10Gbps are through in 10^3/10^10 = 0.1microseconds or less.

Control plane separated from data plane will take seconds to react, ie will unavoidably be thousands of times too slow to be effective.

One could compare the effectiveness of SDN control planes to a thermostat that checks the room temperature twice a year, in January and July, and delivers the adjustment based on the last measurement in six months: it will turn up the heat in July, and the freezing AC in January (assuming the room in question is located in the latitudes of North America).

The software model that worked for managing other software abstractions such as VMs just is ill-suited for handling hardware-level events, such as the more sporadic packetized network communications between VMs at the data plane, and it is even worse for the even less predictable collective packet traffic volume variations between access points of service provider (or enterprise wide area) networks.

Now, we could discuss what the solution is, but that's a bit different topic than SDN.

Educational Resources
sponsor supplied content
Educational Resources Archive
More Blogs from Heavy Lifting Analyst Notes
Huawei summit offers insights into how Asia-Pacific operators are evolving their networks for the emerging challenges of LTE, LTE-A and ultimately 5G.
Network security is becoming an ever bigger deal for communications service providers and the vendor community is reacting accordingly.
Even as MSOs roll out integrated CCAP systems, cable engineers are heating up the debate over next-gen approaches that would shift at least part of the CCAP gear and functions from the headend to the network.
With the help of NFV, cable operators can offer new managed services, roll out other services quicker, reduce their equipment load and cut operational costs.
OPNFV gets a lot of love, but it has a big job to do.
From The Founder
Steve Saunders provides an overview of white box networking and introduces a new "slim line" version of the OSI 7-layer model.
Flash Poll
Live Streaming Video
CLOUD / MANAGED SERVICES: Prepping Ethernet for the Cloud
Moderator: Ray LeMaistre Panelists: Jeremy Bye, Leonard Sheahan
Wagner’s Ring
The Business Case for Open Source

11|30|15   |     |   (0) comments

Open source helps companies enhance infrastructure, undermine competitors' advantage and teach collaboration. But there are problems.
Between the CEOs
Centec on Ethernet Switching

11|26|15   |   09:58   |   (0) comments

Centec CEO James Sun talks to Steve Saunders about Ethernet switching and the white box revolution.
LRTV Custom TV
Delivering Service Agility in the Virtualization Era

11|25|15   |   5.41   |   (0) comments

Interview with Massimo Fatato, WW OSS Business Lead, Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Wagner’s Ring
How Might Open Source Fail?

11|24|15   |     |   (10) comments

Open source, SDN, and NFV are looking inevitable – but performance, standards proliferation and regulatory capture could derail the movement.
LRTV Custom TV
NFV Lifecycle Orchestration – a Fresh Vision for Telco

11|23|15   |   6.40   |   (0) comments

Simon Osborne, CTO Comptel, and Heavy Reading's Caroline Chappell reveal the business impacts of new SDN and NFV, and what the term service orchestration actually means. Together they define Lifecycle Service Orchestration and how the virtualized future will look for telecoms operators.
Between the CEOs
Cisco's Virtual Role in Saudi

11|20|15   |   12:15   |   (2) comments

Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders talks with Zayan Sadek, Regional Manager at Cisco Systems, about the competitive communications services market and advance of virtualization in Saudi Arabia.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Huawei Leads With Kubernetes for Cloud PaaS

11|19|15   |   08:26   |   (0) comments

Huawei is looking to Kubernetes as a key tool for building robust open source technologies for customers and partners, said Ying Xiong, chief architect of cloud platform at Huawei, in an interview with Light Reading West Coast Bureau Chief Mitch Wagner at the recent Kubecon conference.
Women in Comms Introduction Videos
WiC in London: The Highlight Reel

11|19|15   |   5:33   |   (1) comment

NetCracker's Mervat El Dabae headlines an inspiring morning in London with help from leading women from Vodafone, TalkTalk, Hyperoptics and Ciena.
LRTV Documentaries
Why Saudi's So Hot for New Tech

11|19|15   |   05:07   |   (0) comments

Light Reading's Steve Saunders reports from Saudi Arabia, a hyper-competitive market desperate to embrace the next generation of communications technologies and services.
LRTV Custom TV
Why Data Models Deliver More Value Than Information Models

11|19|15   |   5.08   |   (0) comments

Stefan Vallin argues that more automation is needed to manage end-to-end services and the hybrid networks they run on, and that data models are key to achieving this.
Telecom Innovators Video Showcase
SDN Management & Orchestration in the WAN

11|17|15   |   7.20   |   (0) comments

Carol Wilson and Packet Design CTO Cengiz Alaettinoglu discuss CSPs' SDN service delivery and assurance requirements. Learn about a modular approach to building automated control, orchestration and management functions for the WAN that are policy- and analytics-driven.
LRTV Custom TV
Flash Networks: Optimizing for Radio Spectral Efficiency

11|17|15   |   3:34   |   (0) comments

Today most optimization vendors only focus on optimizing voice or data. Ofer Gottfried, Flash Networks' CTO, shows how improving data throughput and maximizing spectral efficiency reduces capital and operating expenses while also providing a platform for user engagement.
Allot MobileTrends Report H2/2015 reveals how daily online behavior can be used to discover smarter ways to profile customers and propose valuable, real-time offers to them.
Hot Topics
Samsung to Sell Wireless Networking Unit?
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/23/2015
Samsung: No Sale of Wireless Unit
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 11/25/2015
How Might Open Source Fail?
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 11/24/2015
Hong Kong Moments
Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-chief, 11/26/2015
Cable Gives Thanks for Business Services
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 11/27/2015
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
December 15, 2015
Virtualizing Cable Services
Webinar Archive
BETWEEN THE CEOs - Executive Interviews
Centec CEO James Sun talks to Steve Saunders about Ethernet switching and the white box revolution.
Light Reading founder and CEO Steve Saunders talks with Zayan Sadek, Regional Manager at Cisco Systems, about the competitive communications services market and advance of virtualization in Saudi Arabia.
Cats with Phones
Can't Find the Phone on Thanksgiving? Click Here
Check under the cat! (hint: bottom right)
Live Digital Audio

Broadband speeds are ramping up across Europe as the continent, at its own pace, follows North America towards a gigabit society. But there are many steps to take on the road to gigabit broadband availability and a number of technology options that can meet the various requirements of Europe’s high-speed fixed broadband network operators. During this radio show we will look at some of the catalysts for broadband network investments and examine the menu of technology options on offer, including vectoring and for copper plant evolution and the various deployment possibilities for FTTH/B.