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SDN Is Hype & NFV a Faux Pas – Telecom Panel

Iain Morris

PARIS -- MPLS, SDN and NFV World Congress 2018 -- There must have been something in the coffee in Paris this week.

Panel sessions at trade shows are often a reality check for the industry, but to hear one deliver such a negative assessment of a technology in the limelight is unusual.

Executives from Orange and Telefónica on the telco side, Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and RAD Data Communications Ltd. in the vendor community and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) from the Internet world were asked here in Paris to consider whether SDN and NFV were mainly hype or reality. And their discussion came down firmly on the side of hype.

That is a bit of a wake-up call for the wider industry. SDN and NFV have now been around for several years. Orange (NYSE: FTE) and Telefónica, moreover, are typically seen as pioneers when it comes to investment in these technologies. Telefónica was one of the first European giants to make a big commitment to virtualization when it announced its Unica program in 2014. Orange said it had moved into the "industrial phase" of NFV deployment in October. (See Orange Moves to 'Industrial' NFV Phase, Will Start in Spain and Telefónica Unveils Aggressive NFV Plans.)

But that did not prevent Stephane Litkowski, a network architect with Orange, from questioning the rationale for spending money on SDN and NFV technologies.

"In my view SDN is still hype and not really a new concept," he told an audience at this week's MPLS, SDN and NFV World Congress in Paris. "The centralization of network management is something we've been able to do for years. It seems we are never really investing in new things but reusing concepts because we can never find a good trade-off. Centralization has its advantages but there is also a need for distribution. I would never set up a network when I have only a single controller because what happens if it fails?"

Israeli vendor RAD also joined in the SDN and NFV bashing, with Yaakov Stein, the company's chief technology officer, suggesting SDN is a "bubble" and questioning NFV's cost benefits.

"When you are doing network functions out in the network, the question is whether you are really saving money by using generic instead of optimized hardware," he said.

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RAD, of course, has legacy as well as SDN and NFV products in its portfolio, but Litkowski agreed with Stein's remarks. "The cost of the power needed with generic hardware is not really economical," he pointed out. "NFV is a reality but is it the reality we wanted?"

On a more positive note, the Orange executive suggested the use of field programmable gate arrays (or FGPAs), which are customizable integrated circuits, might help to make NFV a more welcome reality. "With network functions we have very special requirements and the main pain point is still performance and the determinism of packet processing," he said.

For Nokia's Wim Henderickx, the main challenge is on the applications side. "The applications people still look at the network as though it is from the past," he said. "They are still relying on Layer 2-based resiliency mechanisms and applying the physical world in a virtual environment. We are missing specifications on how apps should run in the cloud and as a result there is complexity in the onboarding element."

Coming several hours after Google's Vijoy Pandey had talked about the Internet giant's investments in intent-based networking tools, to support further automation of its data centers and backbone networks, this was all rather worrying, despite the jocular tone of the panel discussion. If they are not about cost, SDN and NFV are supposed to aid telco agility and speed to market. Yet technology executives are still voicing doubts more than four years after Telefónica first mentioned Unica. For the industry's sake, one must hope the discussion has moved on this time next year. (See Google Has Intent to Cut Humans Out of Network.)

— Iain Morris, News Editor, Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
6/4/2018 | 7:51:03 PM
"the emperor is wearing nothing at all"
Server virtualization proved useful? Let's virtualize everything... including coffee.. AI made spectacular progress in image classification? Let's AI everything... including the wife... It's getting cheaper and cheaper to equip silly devices with networking capabilities? Let's IoT everything... including the coffee machine... Information and content are kings? Let's do information centric networking...

When the big problems are solved and the technology becomes mature with only incremental opportunistic enhancements possible (mainly optimizing cost and performance), the supreme goal for each and every one becomes fighting boredom and looking for novelty... This can become "dangerous" when novelty is pursued for its own sake. You can see it's the case when people start changing old stuff with new stuff without even a consensus or a proof that the new stuff is better (cheaper, has better performance etc). Instead, it's opinion against opinion.

But since history likes to repeat itself, I can remember people saying, a long time ago, that MPLS was useless and that you could get along without it.. using only IP... you want to tunnel? Do IP in IP... And they were may be right to an extent... People could have done VPNs without MPLS (after all that's where MPLS was most useful for) ...

But hype or reality is not the problem... If something becomes "hype", then you must do it because that's what our novelty seeking side will be running after... And the need to conform with others is sometimes stronger... We don't want to be left behind, we want to appear "in" and "up to date"...

And when you are in the middle of a hype, you can't be that innocent kid who yells out loud: "the emperor is wearing nothing at all"


I'm surely exagerating a lot...
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/23/2018 | 12:22:55 PM
It must have been a bit of a surprise  for some in the audience to hear the panel speak candidly on the issues and it does maybe seem that as noted " the question is whether you are really saving money by using generic instead of optimized hardware," and it some cases probably no and others yes.
Gabriel Brown
Gabriel Brown,
User Rank: Light Sabre
4/19/2018 | 8:40:46 AM
Re: Clarification
Good comment Stephane.
User Rank: Light Beer
4/19/2018 | 5:06:38 AM
Just to be clear, my point was that NFV is an obvious reality today as we already have production deployments. However as any new technology, it is not perfect as of today and some technical challenges have to be addressed (performance, power consumption) to get the full benefit. The good thing is that we already have identified solutions like the hardware acceleration or VNF rearchitecture to address those challenges in the future. Orange has demonstrated multiple times its strong engagement in SDN and NFV technologies with existing production deployments and our willingness to drive the industry to get the promise of SDN/NFV real.

Stephane Litkowski
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 1:47:03 PM
technical events.
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 1:38:37 PM
Re: hype or real
Maybe it is time to enter a new era.
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 1:37:34 PM
Why do no new technology appear? SDN has been last for a long time.
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 1:28:31 PM
as it is new
It should be right, it's an old concept, people just talk as it is new.
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 1:26:10 PM
hype or real
SDN has been release for so many years, just hype?
User Rank: Light Beer
4/18/2018 | 11:03:33 AM
Not my takeaway from the panel and conference
Well, as other people commented, I was there as well, moderated sessions and a panel, listened to lectures and spoke with other delegates.

Not my takeaway from the panel. This article might be a misunderstanding of Yaakov's and other panelists' sense of humor.

Are there challenges? YES

Is deployment pace satisfactory? NO

Was there consensus or claim made by a vendor or service provider that SDN or NFV are fads? NO

I would first differentiate between SDN and NFV, moreover, between SDN deployment in the data center vs. the service providers' networks.

NFV is bringing a promise of agility and CAPEX reduction (management/ truck rolls...) for the service provider giving them the opportunity to reduce services' adoption cost and cycle. NFV is also accelerated through SD-WAN deployments.

Those uCPEs running SD-WAN are afoot in the enterprise door for additional VNF based services. This is a real threat for the service provider, if introduced by the SD-WAN vendors and not by them so vendors & service providers "dropping their keyboards" on SDN & NFV work, will be left behind.


Amir Zmora

TheNewDialtone & SDnetIndex
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