The shift to software-centric networks: SDN and NFV poised for the mainstream

19 October 2015 | Manish SIngh

Cover

Manish SIngh

Blog Author | Tech Mahindra; VP, product management - SDN & NFV


We can’t create a strong building on weak foundations. In the telco context, as demands on networks grow, planning and deploying the right infrastructure is a necessity now and some fundamental changes are required if networks are to remain profitable.

We can’t create a strong building on weak foundations. In the telco context, as demands on networks grow, planning and deploying the right infrastructure is a necessity now and some fundamental changes are required if networks are to remain profitable.  

In recent years, it’s become increasingly evident that the traditional, hardware-centric network model cannot, cost-effectively, scale in the coming years. 

So why is there a real urgency, right now for change?  It all comes down to a number of factors.  

Traffic is continuing to grow at an astonishing rate; figures from earlier this year show that globally, mobile data traffic will grow 10-fold from 2014 to 2019*. Networks must support traffic generated by ever more sophisticated mobile devices packed with features. One such example is the new iPhone6S, supporting 4K videos, and equipped with a 12MP camera.

To add to this, the growth in the internet of things, with a predicted 50 billion connected devices by 2020, looks set to place further demands on existing capacity. 

At the same time, there are huge pressures on operators to reduce both capex and opex. And, as well as new entrants to the market, there is added competition arriving in the shape of OTT players who are disrupting the market.  

All of which means that it’s imperative to find new approaches that can help to improve elastic scaling of networks, lower overall costs and increase service agility; the speed with which new services can be rolled out.  

 

Agility, Automation and Programmability  

It may seem like an impossible equation, but meeting the combined demands of capacity and scalability, improved agility and cost savings, is achievable.   

The way forward lies in less reliance on custom-hardware platforms and a move towards a software-centric, programmable and automated approach to drive improved asset utilisation. Not only will this enable operators to build infrastructures at low cost but it also means that when traffic demand surges their infrastructure can scale elastically and will enable them to launch new services or applications quickly.

Shared, common infrastructure built on commodity hardware that leverages merchant silicon holds the key. Automation will enable operators to dynamically allocate this shared infrastructure to network functions, services or applications on a need basis. 

Such shared, common infrastructure will allow operators to rapidly introduce new services and test markets. This will enable operators to elastically scale for services that are rapidly adopted and to fail fast for services that fail to gain traction.

With a higher degree of programmability and network automation, operators will be able to handle rapid growth more efficiently.  

For this reason, SDN (software defined networking) and NFV (network functions virtualisation) look set to go mainstream. They have started to move from the drawing board, to proof of concept and live deployments, with 35% of operators reported to be planning to commercially deploy NFV this year.** 

SDN offers operators more programmability and control by decoupling the brains and brawns for the network. SDN will bring unprecedented levels of network programmability and control for traffic management, network management, security, network isolation, network slicing and more. 

NFV enables operators to run a wide variety of network function workloads over shared, commodity COTS hardware and will dramatically lower capex. By enabling a higher degree of automation, operators will minimise the need for human intervention, further driving opex reductions.

One such opex reduction initiative via automation was recently demonstrated by a TM Forum Catalyst project “Recover First, Resolve Next – Towards Closed Loop Control for Managing Hybrid Networks.” 

Naturally, challenges lie ahead as more operators embark on the road to this more agile infrastructure. However, it’s a road that we must embark on now to build networks that can meet the spiralling data demands of the future.

 

*Cisco Visual Networking Index 2015   
**IHS http://www.infonetics.com/pr/2015/NFV-Strategies-Survey-Highlights.asp