New Survey Looks at Network Operators SDN Plans, Timing and Challenges

By Peter Bernstein August 05, 2015

While software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) are kissing cousins, reality is they service different purposes when it comes to the transformation/modernization of telecommunication service providers (CSPs) operations. It is for this reason that the latest survey by research firm IHS Infonetics concerning CSP views on SDN is insightful. The results of the survey, IHS Infonetics SDN Strategies: Global Service, which is based on interviews with global carriers representing 49 percent of the world’s telecom capex and 46 percent of telecom revenue, are out. In a word, they are “illuminating.”

The big headline here is that 82 percent of respondents have either already deployed SDN, are now deploying SDN, or plan to evaluate it in 2015. And, as the graphic from the survey shows, 100 percent of CSPs plan to evaluate or deploy SDN by 2017. Indeed, given that this is about some fundamental changes in the way CSPs operate their infrastructure, in telecom historical terms this is almost the equivalent of moving at light speed, even if much of the activity by 2017 will still be just a bit more than dipping toes into deeper waters. 

Commenting on the findings, Michael Howard, senior research director for carrier networks at IHS noted: “The successful field trials and a few commercial deployments of SDN in the last year keep moving toward more commercial deployments in 2015, still mostly on a limited basis as operators put one or two use cases to the test under real-world conditions in their live networks.”  

Howard added that: “Carriers are starting small with their SDN deployments and focusing on only parts of their network to ensure they can get the technology to work as intended. We see in the results of our SDN survey that though momentum is strong, it will be many years before we see bigger parts or a whole network that is controlled by SDN.”

Some other insights that pop out of the responses should catch the attention of the SDN solutions community. They include: 

  • The #1 reason CSPs are investing in SDN is to simplify and automate service provisioning, which they believe will lead to service agility and quick time to revenue.
  • Various barriers are becoming more prominent as operators get closer to commercial deployment with integrating SDN into existing networks and immature technologies and products cited as the top two  barriers.
  • Operators want SDN in most parts of their networks, with the top domains for deployment consisting of cloud services offered to customers, within and between data centers, and access for businesses.
Image via Shutterstock

The survey has additional insights gleaned from responses to questions about such things as CSP strategies and timing for SDN, including deployment drivers and barriers, target domains, use cases and more.  

While there is clearly enthusiasm, which some might even call a sense of urgency, on the part of CSPs to automate or risk falling behind more nimble competitors, bullets #1 and #3 are not surprising. What is real food for thought, even in the face of SDN solution provider statements of direction and intent, is item #2.  This is a case where the devil really will be in the details and migration and integration issues are going to make CSP journeys from here to there non-trivial. It is one of the reasons why evaluating not just the technology but the vendor(s) is going to be so critical.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino
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