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SDN Will Shake Industry’s Roots

Heavy Reading analysts say software-defined networking (SDN) will have broad implications for the future of telecom players.

Alan Breznick

October 9, 2013

4 Min Read
SDN Will Shake Industry’s Roots

No matter whether it's under-hyped or over-hyped right now, software-defined networking (SDN) will disrupt and transform the telecom industry over the next few years, leading to new winners and losers and a potential vendor shakeout. (See Don't Believe the SDN Under-Hype.)

So say a group of Heavy Reading analysts studying the effects that SDN is starting to have on the telecom industry at the Ethernet & SDN Expo in New York. Assembled on a panel at the event last week, the five analysts predicted that SDN and the closely related network functions virtualization (NFV) technology will lead to major changes in telco network design, operations, engineering, security, support, and staffing, among other areas.

"Network automation, SDN, and NFV are definitely on the agenda for the next year," said Caroline Chappell, a senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "And they will only get bigger and bigger over time."

Unlike other technological forces that were expected to reshape the industry but fell short, SDN and NFV really will transform telecom networks because carriers, not vendors, are pushing for the new technologies and the changes they will produce, according to Jim Hodges, another senior analyst at Heavy Reading. "This time around these working groups are all being driven by the carriers," Hodges said, calling it "a huge step."

Fellow Heavy Reading Senior Analyst Patrick Donegan went even further, agreeing with an audience member that end users are also driving the technological changes. "It's not just the carrier community, it's the user community [that's lobbying for the new technologies]," he says. He noted that companies such as the BMW Group are already engaged in early discussions about the proposed 5G wireless technology.

But, as they implement SDN and NFV, carriers will run into a number of daunting challenges, the analysts say. Donegan highlighted network security as one such key challenge. Although network virtualization offers great opportunities, he said, it will also introduce great security risks because operators will be "taking things from a nice central place and scattering them to the winds." As a result, he predicted that "security will require more and more attention."

Operations and support systems (OSS) will be another major challenge, according to Graham Finnie, chief analyst at Heavy Reading. Calling it "a make or break issue" for many, he argued that telcos will have to overhaul their entire OSS structure to succeed with SDN and NFV technologies.

In turn, Finnie said, many current telco employees could well end up losing their jobs because of the huge amount of workforce re-training that will be required to implement SDN and NFV. "SDN/NFV will require a complete transformation of the OSS and tremendous re-skilling by the operators," he said, highlighting the internal reorganization issues that carriers face. "It will also mean significant redundancies... whole groups and departments may go away."

Sterling Perrin, another senior analyst at Heavy Reading, warned that SDN and NFV vendors probably face "a bit of a shakeout" over the next year because supply for products may outstrip demand. Questioning the notion that SDN was being under-hyped, he contended that the technology is being applied to "far too many things" right now. "It's probably a disservice to apply SDN and NFV to every app across the board," he says.

Perrin also noted that open source deployments work in greenfield situations but are harder to deploy in existing telco networks.

Even before they start major transformation of their operations, carriers have tools available to speed the deployment of services and get closer to making their networks "on-demand," Chappell said. She argued that carriers often cite the need for OSS updates as an excuse for not shortening their often months-long provisioning cycles.

"The tools exist today to do this in minutes. I've seen it done," she said. "There's no reason why service providers can't be [turning up] services much faster than they do today."

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Alan Breznick

Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

Alan Breznick is a business editor and research analyst who has tracked the cable, broadband and video markets like an over-bred bloodhound for more than 20 years.

As a senior analyst at Light Reading's research arm, Heavy Reading, for six years, Alan authored numerous reports, columns, white papers and case studies, moderated dozens of webinars, and organized and hosted more than 15 -- count 'em --regional conferences on cable, broadband and IPTV technology topics. And all this while maintaining a summer job as an ostrich wrangler.

Before that, he was the founding editor of Light Reading Cable, transforming a monthly newsletter into a daily website. Prior to joining Light Reading, Alan was a broadband analyst for Kinetic Strategies and a contributing analyst for One Touch Intelligence.

He is based in the Toronto area, though is New York born and bred. Just ask, and he will take you on a power-walking tour of Manhattan, pointing out the tourist hotspots and the places that make up his personal timeline: The bench where he smoked his first pipe; the alley where he won his first fist fight. That kind of thing.

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