SDN & NFV – The beginning of a new era?

There is a revolution going on; a revolution in networking, that is. Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV) are the new concepts driving a major transformation of the industry, and both share a common theme: software (are you surprised?). It is all about moving network control and functions out of dedicated hardware appliances and delivering them purely in software running on common compute hosts. The need for more automation, better integration and increased flexibility are all well recognized but it’s clear that a well-established industry like data networking won’t transform and re-invent itself overnight. Having said that, the good news is that the whole industry – service and content providers, vendors and more and more of our customers – agree with not only the technical but also the business problem statements and the high level solutions that can be applied based on SDN & NFV. It simply takes time to develop all the different pieces and assemble them to deliver this new networking world. And believe me, a number of us are working at full speed to help drive this transformation. 2014 is definitely the year of proof of concepts (PoCs) and field trials for both SDN and NFV. Almost every major service provider has announced or publicly discussed on-going activities and plans in this space. To help get this right, two main organisations are supporting the SDN and NFV developments worldwide: ONF (Open Networking Foundation) and ETSI NFV ISG (Industry Specification Group). At Colt we are actively participating in both bodies, and are proud to have paved the way for the industry in areas such as virtual CPE and Datacentre Network Virtualisation, where we have already deployed NFV and SDN solutions in production with live customers on them. It’s really fascinating to be part of such a radical transformation, especially after a period where networking principles haven’t changed in decades. However, we need a big dose of pragmatism to avoid setting the wrong expectations in these early phase that could jeopardise the whole end objective of truly transforming networking. In practise this means focusing on transition and migration strategies as well as supporting hybrid models and not just the technology aspects. This will help as we start using the new technology, by following a step-by-step approach and at the same time keep all the legacy running without disruption whilst facilitating user adoption and operating model changes.Education and getting buy-in from people across the organisation, as always, are the key ingredients for success. In particular, internal education across many departments and working with customers, who will be the ones that will benefit from the advantages of the new networking paradigm promised by SDN&NFV. No matter where you are in the industry (vendor, operator, content provider, etc) or in which vertical your company operates my advice is that you actively engage with your customer and partner base to explain what SDN and NFV are about and try to validate initial use cases. Without this feedback loop, overall success is clearly not guaranteed. Colt’s Network & Platform Architecture team has been actively researching and driving Colt’s strategy around SDN&NFV for the last two years, representing Colt at ONF (first European operator, joined April 2012) as well as ETSI ISG NFV (One of the original proponents, joined October 2012). Please check my last presentation at NFV & SDN Summit in Paris in March 2014:

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