SDN & NFV: Convergence & Divergence Down in Denver
Sterling Perrin, Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading
Light Reading and Heavy Reading are gearing up for our annual NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver next month. Originally, NFV and SDN were separate Light Reading events, but we merged them three years ago because the distinctions between "what is SDN" and "what is NFV" were so blurry that separating the events caused confusion. It is interesting that, since that time, trajectories of SDN and NFV have continued to converge while also diverging and separating more than we expected.
First, on NFV and SDN divergence. Earlier this year, I wrote that SDN and NFV initiatives were increasingly advancing on different timetables. Heavy Reading survey data showed that SDN commercialization was advancing even as NFV commercialization was delayed. Operators reported that, while still often coupled, SDN and NFV technology trends were also becoming distinct and separate. The Webscale providers are just one example -- they've plowed forward with SDN within and between their data centers, but they have little interest in the carrier-driven NFV trend. Early SD-WAN implementations are another case in point of SDN adoption, though SD-WAN also leads into the second point of continued SDN and NFV convergence. I'll return to SD-WAN shortly. (See Measuring Progress in Carrier SDN.)
Let's address the convergence trend. It's clear that centralized SDN is the preferred control plane for virtualized network elements (VNFs), but it is also increasingly the preferred control plane for physical network elements (PNFs), particularly for any "next-gen" physical elements built in the SDN era.
What's become crystal clear over the past year is that, as VNFs proliferate (albeit slower than many envisioned back in 2012), and as physical network elements continue to exist in operator networks (perhaps longer than some would wish), there is an urgent need to tie together the virtual networks and the physical networks. The benefits of virtualized, automated networks are severely limited if virtualized networks are siloed from the legacy infrastructure and if physical networks are left behind in the automation renaissance.
This timely topic is the focus of one of the panels I am moderating at the NFV & Carrier SDN event: "SDN & Orchestration: Connecting the Virtual and Physical Worlds." The panel includes speakers from Telefónica , Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd , Intraway Corp. , Wave2Wave and NetScout Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: NTCT) -- a broad industry mix indicating the scope of this challenge and the opportunity.
The second panel I'm moderating, "SD-WAN 2.0: Defining Service Provider Business Models for Success," includes panelists from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), GTT Communications Inc. , ADVA Optical Networking and MEF . Ironically, a good portion of SD-WAN's rapid ascent is directly related to the siloed nature of early deployments. Delivered as SD-WAN appliances, these products haven't been bogged down by the orchestration intricacies of NFV -- or even by requirements for SD-WAN multi-vendor interoperability. But operator business success hinges, ultimately, on a convergence with NFV trends. This makes a tricky situation for operators to navigate as they seek to establish themselves as SD-WAN leaders today while also planning for future business services.
There's a great deal to debate and resolve, and, on behalf of all my Light Reading and Heavy Reading colleagues, I hope to see you at Light Reading's NFV & Carrier SDN event in Denver on September 24-26. You can register for the event here, and it's free for service providers to attend.
— Sterling Perrin, Principal Analyst, Optical Networking & Transport, Heavy Reading