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The Long and Winding Road to SDN, NFV

By Doug Mohney October 09, 2013

Software defined networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) are hot topics, but carriers say it will be years before either technology is deployed within their networks. Standards have yet to be set, leading service providers to work with nascent software and hardware in trials.

Representatives from CenturyLink and Orange discussed the challenges and promises of SDN and NFV this week at TIA 2013. All of the service providers believe SDN and NFV will accelerate the deployment of services across their networks, but the technologies will not be implemented overnight.

"It will be three to five years" before NFV shows in widespread use, said Orange research scientist Christos Kolias, and up to "three years beyond that" for SDN.  Orange is more focused on NFV than SDN, seeing it as a key technology for mobile networks. The company is part of a 140-plus member ETSI group to establish specifications for virtualized network platforms, with the goals to simplify virtualized platforms, enabling portability between different hypervisiors and hardware vendors, and make everything more stable and reliable under a number of conditions.

For SDN, the Open Network Foundation (ONF) is working on establishing interoperability standards so service providers can easily drop in hardware and software, rather than being locked into a particular hardware or software package.

CenturyLink is running a SDN for a small production CDN network for delivering its Prism TV product, stated James Feger, Vice President of Network Strategy & Development, but he's having to beat back his marketing department from joining in the hype around the new technologies."There's no compelling product" at this time to sell to businesses, he said.

Verizon Principal Technologist Vishnu Shukla said it was easier to implement SDN and NSV on its internal cloud, but deployment across its production network would be a "step-by-step evolution."

Another potential concern raised by panelists is what sort of vendors service providers are willing to deal with. Established vendors are known quantities for support and maintenance, while smaller start-ups offering a good idea typically get acquired by larger firms.

Once NFV and SDN are established, all the panelists agreed that the technology should enable more and faster customization of services, with deployment times of new features and services significantly reduced. How much faster was a subject of some speculation, with Kolias saying there was "no right answer" but suggesting that some processes taking two years may be reduced down to three months. A Ciena representative threw out the figure "from 90 days to nine."

Edited by Alisen Downey

Contributing Editor

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