The shift toward software-defined networking (SDN) will entail a 10-year process, but the migration is already beginning and will ramp up even more during 2014, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.
Sue Rudd, the firm's director of service provider analysis, said industry players formerly thought virtualization and SDN were tightly coupled, meaning an operator had to virtualize its network resources before it could look at the control plane rather than the data plane and only then start to use SDN.
However, she said, operators as well as vendors are now focused on using the control plane with current virtualized resources and also with legacy resources.
Rudd, who made her comments during a Strategy Analytics webinar examining emerging industry trends, cited a handful of early wireless industry SDN initiatives.
(Source: Strategy Analytics Wireless Networks and Platforms)
Deutsche Telekom has been testing TeraStream in Croatia, isolating the service layers and network models from the lower multi-technology transport access layers to create a strong network architecture, which was initially used for OSS/BSS virtualization. In another example, Australia's Telstra has engaged in service chaining, which relies upon the SDN data plane to control provisioning of services with only the resources necessary.
Taking a different tack, AT&T (NYSE:T) recently announced a major push into SDN and network functions virtualization (NFV) via its Supplier Domain Program 2.0, which is aimed at making into reality the carrier's goal of an all-IP broadband, all-wireless, and all-cloud infrastructure.
Strategy Analytics has identified four different areas where virtualization and SDN will increasingly be implemented: data center OSS/BSS SDNs; virtualization; next-generation services SDNs; and high performance Open Networking Foundation (ONF) server SDNs.
Rudd noted that IT-related service functions can be much easier to virtualize than network and radio-related functions. "Some of them may as optimized as they already can be with codecs and DSPs (digital signal processors) and virtualization on standard, off-the-shelf computers may be less efficient, in fact, than some of the optimized hardware that's out there," she said.
The two major areas where SDN will grow over the next few years are the classic OpenFlow SDN control plane, which includes service chaining and load management as well as the provision of SDN to the service layer to optimize control, management and configuration of new services, Rudd added.
Despite the promise held by SDN and related network approaches, there is still a lot to be sorted out before they become mainstream. "It is still very early days" in the evolution of SDN, network virtualization and NFV, according to a report from Ovum.
"These technologies are in trials with major service providers and have had limited deployment in live networks. In 2014, we expect new and revised standards and specifications related to these technologies to bring the industry closer to consensus, giving service providers confidence to expand trials and early deployments," the firm added.
Nonetheless, this past summer, Informa Telecoms & Media published results from an industry survey which revealed that 93 percent of operator respondents expect SDN to be implemented in mobile within five years, and half expect it to be implemented in the next one to two years.
In addition, SNS Research recently forecast that SDN and NFV investments can save wireless and wireline service providers up to $32 billion in annual capex by 2020.
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