Looking back May 2015 may become known as the month when big money recognized Network Virtualization. Early in the month Ciena announced an agreement to acquire Cyan for $400 million to strengthen their portfolio of Software Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization products. The fag end of the month then saw HP announcing successful conclusion of discussions to acquire ConteXtream, a provider of OpenDaylight-based, carrier-grade SDN fabric for NFV.
The idea of Software Defined Networking was born in large enterprise and campus networks. Making network devices programmable and controlled by a central element was an idea whose time had come and standards like OpenFlow and the OpenDaylight Project followed. With Cloud Data Centers becoming larger and more complex it seemed an obvious “use case” for SDN – this is an area where SDN has more or less taken root. Carriers and other network service providers came together to form the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) who came up with the basic requirements and architecture for NFV. The main problem they were looking to solve was being able to rapidly provision network infrastructure to enable speedy deployment of new services.
In many ways SDN focuses on efficient orchestration and automation of network services and NFV focuses on optimizing the network services themselves. Rather than being competing approaches it seems apparent that the two have synergies. The market is looking at some big nos. – a SDNCentral, Plexxi and LightSpeed Ventures study in 2013 pegged this at $ 35 Billion in 2018 with an annual growth rate of 20%.
What is becoming clear is that the battleground is in the process of moving to the carrier networks now. Fundamentally they are seeking the ability to be able to roll out services faster and monetize sooner. This could also bring with it the ability to better predict and manage network requirements in the face of large spikes and troughs in consumption of Over The Top (OTT) Services like video. This is a big market with multi-million $ deals – no wonder the HPs of the world are interested. A case in point is Verizon’s announcement of a multi-year software defined networking roll-out with opportunities for as many as 20 vendor partners to contribute solution elements. The who’s who are represented in that list – Alcatel-Lucent, Nokia, Cisco, Juniper et al’. Verizon uses SDN in its data centers and in making a wider SDN case says it is seeking “Elastic, scalable, network-wide service creation and near real-time service delivery and operational agility via dynamic resource allocation and management as well as automation of network operations.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Intel’s plan to make what they call Customer Premises Equipment (the modems and routers in our homes) more intelligent by adding bigger and better chips (big surprise!). Virtualization + OpenStack seems to be the magic combination here. Without getting into too much detail this could effectively allow the CPEs run virtual machines and give the carrier a way to push services, even if they can’t be run in the cloud. For the ISP this could be a God-send – an opportunity to offer some truly value added services. They seem to be aiming for nothing less than a revolution in the nature of home broadband services.
It will be exciting to watch this space as developments in the external telecom and carrier environment impact it and also as the synergies and, dare one say, conflicts with the other prevailing technology trends of the day like Big Data, Docker / Containerization etc. play out. What seems sure is the attention SDN and NFV are getting now is going to be sustained for some time to come.
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Anupam Bhide | Calsoft Inc.