Redefining infrastructure with software virtualisation

Together, software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) have become the most highly-anticipated developments in network infrastructure in over a decade.

Guest author

June 22, 2016

4 Min Read
Redefining infrastructure with software virtualisation periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Joe Marsella, CTO of Europe and EMEA at Ciena looks at how network virtualisation initiatives such as SDN and NFV are helping operators redefine how they do business.

Together, software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) have become the most highly-anticipated developments in network infrastructure in over a decade. A software abstraction layer sitting above a set of virtualized hardware resources can transform the way service providers (SPs) do business – improving service velocity, lowering costs and drastically increasing business agility. Effectively, NFV and SDN can reduce the time needed to deploy and augment networks from months down to days.

The value of this has certainly not been lost on the wider market.  IDC has reported that the global SDN market will see compound annual growth of 53.9% between 2014 and 2020, estimating it at nearly $12.5 billion.  IHS has similar expectations – predicting that the global network functions virtualisation (NFV) hardware, software and services market will reach $11.6 billion by 2019.

The mass migration of enterprise IT to the cloud, along with associated data, applications, compute and storage resources have all contributed to this rapid growth. And the upsurge in end-user and consumer demand for data intensive applications and cloud-based services has compounded it.

Putting the customer first

Both SDN and NFV are powerful technologies with the capability to transform networks; however, the transition needs to be done with the customer, in this case enterprises, in mind. Enterprises require hybrid IT infrastructures that offer choice and ensure the desired level of performance at the right cost. They also want to be able to order and activate it via self-service digital interfaces when and where they need it.

This means SPs should be focussing on transitioning to SDN / NFV solutions that enable this hybrid IT infrastructure, by enabling a programmable, on-demand packet-optical based network to a wide variety of private and public data centres and cloud providers.

Virtual networking services can then be added on top of these new hybrid IT infrastructures as an easier way to deliver managed network services (from managed firewalls and managed routing to managed WAN optimisation, and so on). Virtualisation means these services can now be conveniently deployed, at the right price, with flexible terms; opening them up to small and medium enterprises—currently a largely untapped market.

Overcoming barriers to change

SPs are already enabling hybrid IT infrastructures where SDN can add value, building out for specific deployments and replacing legacy components with new technologies as networks are upgraded, but this will take time. Luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to look to for  examples;  AT&T has a program in place to virtualise and control more than 75% of its network by 2020 and CenturyLink intends to have full global virtualisation coverage in its IP core network and data centres by 2018.

The shift from a closed, siloed architecture to software-centric openness also can require significant integration efforts that can depend on how well third-party hardware and software from different vendors can be weaved together. This drives the need for a new level of partnership never really seen before in the networking industry which can add some level of risk to the transition if not managed properly.

The vendor community, however, is already taking steps in the right direction, and in so doing reducing what could be a complex, time-consuming integration process through a DevOps style approach. This allows for the rapid creation of service templates and enables SPs the choice of adding new services and features themselves, or utilising third-party vendors and/or solution integrators as required. Ultimately multivendor communities will ensure that the resources that enable network, data centre and virtual domains to be connected will be more accessible.

For SPs in particular, moving from closed, proprietary hardware-based architectures to more open, on-demand software-driven networks has become mission critical. Programmable infrastructures that can rapidly adapt and provide the flexibility needed for higher-level cloud-based applications, means improvements to service modifications can be rolled out far quicker. The revolution, however, begins with the customer – identifying new and innovative virtual services that enable hybrid IT infrastructures and delivering them with velocity.

JJoe-Marsella-Ciena-150x150.jpgoe Marsella is Chief Technology Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Ciena, responsible for aligning Ciena’s product portfolio to the business challenges and opportunities of customers in the region.


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