DÜSSELDORF -- SDN & OpenFlow World Congress -- If anyone thought there might, at some point, be a pull-back by telcos from SDN and NFV, then such thoughts would have been wiped this week, despite an eye-wateringly long list of tough challenges that now face the infrastructure operators.
The financial, hardware, software, staffing, process, organizational and cultural challenges facing network operators moving to SDN and NFV are enormous and complex: The shift will be long, difficult and expensive, and it will be years before tangible benefits will be achieved by a significant body of network operators. That, by the way, is the view of the operators that have already started their migration processes, not of bystanders and industry-watchers such as myself.
There are short-term frustrations too: Nico Fischbach at Colt Technology Services Group Ltd , for example, snapped at the vendor community when he took to the podium Thursday to talk about his company's progress with virtualization, telling the audience that "it has been mostly vendors pushing smoke and mirrors at you so far." (See Colt Preps Next-Gen OSS for NFV, SDN.)
But despite the challenges and barriers, the operators are all committing to a future that involves programmable networks and virtualized functions because the medium- and long-term potential for lower costs, increased agility, broader business opportunities and enhanced returns on investment are too compelling, even if it's impossible to nail down exact timescales and numbers.
That's not all. In the best presentation this week, EE senior network architect Phil Bridge sent out a very stark message to the entire operator community: The introduction of SDN and NFV is vital to the future existence of communications networks. As smartphones become ubiquitous and the Internet of Things (IoT) emerges, current network architectures are unsustainable: A new way of managing communications and data has to be found, or the game's up.
This provides opportunities for the vendor community, as new network architectures need to be planned, built, tested and maintained. But that doesn't mean it's good news for the current telecom vendor community -- some will be on board and be development and deployment partners to the telcos, and others will not. The ones that will play a role are those that have already begun their own soup-to-nuts transition -- a change of products, marketing, business proposition and culture that fits into the "New IP" way of the world.
The others are those that have done little more than produce virtual versions of legacy hardware-based products. They, along with many in the traditional OSS world, I believe, are the ones likely to struggle the most and find themselves consolidated or shutting their doors. There will be casualties.
In the meantime, the visionaries and leaders -- think AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), Colt, Deutsche Telekom, EE, NTT Communications Corp. (NYSE: NTT), NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), SK Telecom (Nasdaq: SKM), Telefónica SA (NYSE: TEF) -- will continue to guide the rest of the industry by sharing their experiences and outlook.
The pace is relentless: We will have hardly gathered our thoughts from this week in Düsseldorf before many of those telco leaders gather in London for OSS in the Era of SDN & NFV: Evolution vs Revolution, where I know we are going to learn about very different approaches and strategies from the likes of BT, Colt, and Deutsche Telekom.
And they need to have a plan and start working on it soon, because time's running out for what we currently call the telco network.
The telcos have faced migration and evolutionary challenges before, but nothing like this one -- this is different, because it changes EVERYTHING.
— Ray Le Maistre, , Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading