The hype around software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) is growing in the telecoms industry.
The hope is that these technologies will enable service providers and network operators to drive down capital expenditure, simplify configuration and maintenance, and improve the agility of their networks, writes Mark Tinka, head of engineering at Seacom.
However, as promising as these technologies are, they remain immature and there is a long way to go before they will be deployed at scale and transform the industry. A sign of their immaturity, perhaps, is the fact that the two terms mean different things to different people, and are sometimes even used interchangeably. The meanings of the terms have also evolved over the past five years.
When SDN first appeared on the scene, it was positioned as a solution for scaling the network while making it less expensive to operate, by decoupling the control and data planes. The industry has since had a reality check and realises that this kind of separation of roles is not easily implemented in the manner envisaged in the SDN standards of 2012.
Now, however, SDN has spawned a number of other initiatives geared toward automating networks, making them more reliable, more resilient, more self-healing, and above all, cheaper to operate. While several network operators have pursued these ends for years, they have done each in isolation using proprietary technology.
What the industry now aims to accomplish with SDN and the associated technologies, is to standardise and harmonise the protocols, procedures, toolsets and technologies that network operators implement to automate their operations. This way, it does not matter what solution is purchased–its various elements will interoperate smoothly.
NFV is more straightforward, and network operators have been employing NFV technologies successfully for some time now. The premise with NFV is — certain functions that purpose-built hardware used to perform, can now be deployed on general-purpose hardware, like an off-the-shelf server. This lowers barriers to entry and costs which makes those technologies more accessible to more users.
Seacom is closely following the development of these technologies to ensure the new features are integrated into our network as-and-when appropriate, to the benefit of our customers. As a first step, we have deployed an OpenStack virtualisation environment to create a platform for the deployment of our next-generation products and services, which will be launched over the course of 2018.