Verizon exec embraces SDN and NFV, but warns of their impact

The trend toward Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) is one of the major networking transformations sweeping operators around the globe, but one Verizon (NYSE: VZ) executive warned that the carrier needs to think through how SDN and NFV will impact its actual operations.

Speaking at the Genband Perspectives conference, Kyle Malady, senior vice president of global network operations for Verizon Communications, said that the company has a "strong program to leverage SDN and NFV," but warned that other technologies have been hyped heavily in the past as well.

"It's one thing to think about it on paper and another in the field with operational problems," he said. "We are running behind in my company on thinking about the operational impacts of SDN and NFV on our business."

Broadly speaking, NFV will allow carriers to virtualize hardware functions and turn them into software within their networks. By running commodity hardware that uses customized software, carriers can cut costs. SDN enables carriers to then use software to control network functions and policies in the cloud.

The shift to break apart tightly coupled hardware and software will have direct operational consequences, Malady said. He noted that in the past, if Verizon had a problem with a specific vendor's equipment, it would speak with that vendor. "In an NFV world, I'm not sure what happens," he said. "There could be a lot of different maintenance issues and people to talk to in order to fix one box."

Still, while he said Verizon is "banking on" SDN and NFV, the company is moving cautiously. That contrasts with AT&T (NYSE: T), which has heartily embraced both technologies as part of its "User-Defined Network Cloud" initiative and Domain 2.0 program for vendors.

Marian Croak, AT&T's senior vice president of Domain 2.0 architecture and advanced services development, told FierceWireless in May that the transition is "a major change and so fundamental. It changes your whole operations, your whole IT, your whole research and development. It's a paradigm shift."

Croak also said that she thinks other carriers need to make the shift even if it will be difficult to do so. "I don't see how you can achieve the speed of service deployment that's necessary in this environment without making a shift like that," she said.

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