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What Is SDNFV & Why Should You Use It?

Dan Pitt
Column
Dan Pitt
6/14/2016

Industry perspectives on the relationship between network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) are evolving, and for the better.

NFV has long been championed by telcos as a way first to reduce capex by eliminating proprietary appliances, and more recently as the key to virtualizing much of their operations. SDN was described as orthogonal and complementary, but not essential for NFV; neither SDN nor NFV depended on the other.

Boy, that sounded good. But it was bogus.

SDN is now seen as an essential foundation for many virtualized network functions (VNFs), where SDN abstracts the infrastructure and provides interconnection, while NFV virtualizes what the network does. Our position has always been that any VNF that requires the network infrastructure to actually do something (such as directing packets, dropping malicious traffic, or accelerating certain application flows) needs SDN to convey those instructions to the infrastructure. Even within hypervisors, SDN has enabled service function chaining. Because SDN accompanies NFV almost everywhere it is deployed, these two approaches are converging. The greatest benefits can be achieved when both are deployed, and the industry is embracing this perspective.

I recently attended Light Reading's Big Communications Event in Austin, Texas, and many speakers and attendees discussed not just NFV, nor just SDN, but NFV and SDN together. That combination was addressed by executives and technologists from AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, PCCW Global, CableLabs, Verizon, Vodafone and more.

Telcos and cable operators are embracing a combination of NFV and SDN as an enabler of new services for their customers, and they have stopped going to almost silly lengths to emphasize their non-interdependence. The energy and enthusiasm surrounding the convergence of these two approaches was palpable in Austin (along with the humidity).

Telecom service providers are at a crossroads of opportunity and threat. As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes more of a reality, and as these companies look to deploy 5G and reap all its promised benefits, most realize that they need to revamp their networks in order to deliver value and to compete (with you-know-who). These trends will result in significantly more data of widely different types traveling across their networks, and to retain service agility on a more-or-less static infrastructure, these operators need NFV and SDN, along with "cloudification" and advances in distributed computing.

But look at the speakers' slides and listen to their talks: How do you pronounce "SDN/NFV"? Do you say "slash"? Or "and"? (Do you ever say "virgule"? No, you don't...) What a mouthful! We regularly joke and complain about the proliferation of acronyms and abbreviations in the networking industry, and here we are, using at least two to describe the best way to progress toward the networks of the future. I propose a simplification -- a consolidation, if you will. With the convergence of NFV and SDN, let's converge acronyms as well. SDNFV. It's about time (pun intended). (See Ditching the Slash & the Orchestration Wars.)

All teasing aside, by talking about NFV and SDN together, SDNFV becomes the simplified foundation for new orchestrated services and applications. During the Big Communications Event, I heard of use cases for SD-WAN, virtual CPE, virtual EPC, on-demand MPLS VPNs and optical transport, just to name a few, that were enabled by SDNFV.

Based on my recent conversations with industry innovators, I've learned that many carriers have already deployed some form of SDNFV for lab trials and some for production services. That's right -- the deployment of SDNFV is already happening. And the more solid the SDNFV components, the sooner operators can make progress on orchestration projects to compose services from VNFs -- great signs that people are investing in the approach. Because the foundation has been laid, we can now explore additional use cases and services that SDNFV enables.

The industry is quickly transitioning from an argument of NFV or SDN to an acceptance of NFV and SDN, and this is a natural progression. Put SDNFV to work to build new competitive services for your organization and your customers.

If nothing else, SDNFV is a lot easier to say.

— Dan Pitt, Executive Director, Open Networking Foundation

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Infostack
Infostack
6/15/2016 | 1:20:10 PM
North-south vs East-west
While everyone is focused on north-south convergence or completeness, who is talking about and understanding the significance (and necessity) of east-west scale.  It's not just networks, but business models at the edge and core of the interwebs that need rethinking.  If the trend is towards horizontalization, then what sense is there for disconnected and disparate vertically integrated silos at the edge (even if they have SDNFV implemented in their networks)?
Re-Light-Ful
Re-Light-Ful
6/15/2016 | 6:09:57 AM
Look for elasticity. It's the Automation, stupid...
Does NFV make any sense without SDN?  I'd assume you want to use SDN to enable the scaling out of NFV - as well as the control and management even if you're not scaling out.  Most of driver for NFV is flexibility to scale.  Some schemes don't provide the elasticity - but this should be a crucial buying criteria.  Automation, baby...
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