This week at SDN & OpenFlow World Congress, a lot of talk was devoted to what’s still needed to get virtualization technologies out of the lab and proof of concept stage and into full-scale commercial productions. This includes multi-vendor support, partnerships, standards and a more open environment. There is movement on each of those fronts, but there’s still a way to go, and in the meantime questions around the business cases and real-world viability of SDN and NFV still swirl around the industry.
Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst at 451 Research, said that now that the industry has been working with SDN for about seven years and NFV for about three, deployments have finally gone beyond just the theoretical. He said the level of maturity in the technologies and standards, along with a wide range of operators deploying functionality around these capabilities, means SDN and NFV have hit their stride.
However, he cautioned, what’s happening today is part of a much longer journey along which the industry is probably only at the midpoint if even that far. It may still be early days, but Hanselman said the industry must continue to look ahead to areas such as improving scale and capabilities in terms of application sophistication, true service orchestration, a broader ecosystem and greater integration with BSS and OSS.
With interesting use cases such as the Internet of Things (IoT) already here, now’s the time to seize those opportunities to realize the benefits of virtualization.
IoT is a natural use case that will greatly benefit from virtualization technologies. As sensors, wearables and other devices proliferate in applications ranging from connected cars and homes to fitness trackers and package delivery, among just a very few examples, issues such as traffic volume, latency, reliability and performance will be significant. Considering the IoT is expected to quickly ramp up to many billions of devices in the next five years, the network issues alone are daunting.
But by bringing in NFV, operators will be better able to optimize traffic management. For example, by managing bursts of traffic – which will be a common occurrence with many IoT applications – at the network edge, they will be able to manage performance degradation much more efficiently. In addition, operators will be able to offload control and data plane traffic using vEPC, while SDN will bring dynamic provisioning to the table, which will allow for real-time capacity management by allocating bandwidth as needed. SDN will also enable security enforcement at the network edge to provide a more tightly controlled environment for IoT applications.
Another use case for virtualization comes in the form of the virtual CPE (vCPE), which Telefónica plans to roll out in 2016, according to Francisco-Javier Ramon Salguero, Head of Network Virtualization at the operator’s GCTO Unit. He said that while the industry as a whole might be in the middle of the virtualization journey, and not quite to the end goals of better programmability and overall simplicity of network operations, Telefónica belief has been that it’s not enough to discuss the technology; instead, it’s necessary to get your hands dirty in order to move virtualization efforts forward. And with today’s access network getting more and more complicated, vCPE brings a strong business case to operators.
Overall, the mood at SDN & OpenFlow World Congress has been one of optimism but tempered by the reality that the work is far from over. But given the intense commitment on the part of operators, vendors, standards organizations and others, by the next time this event convenes there will likely be many more real-world examples alongside even more interesting and innovative use cases.
Photo by Highways England with Creative Commons license
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