We recently caught up with John Hawkins, senior product line manager at Ciena, to ask him some questions about the state of Software-defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), two trends that are radically changing how we design, build, and use networks. He filled us in about where the technology stands today, and where it’s heading.
SF: Why is SDN/NFV taking so long to take off in the industry?
JH: I would argue NFV and SDN are, in fact, taking off. Major carriers around the world have announced forays into the space. Some are quite aggressive, while others are more limited. That’s to be expected. All are doing so carefully, because this is one of the biggest transitions in our industry since the move from analog to digital. This means the skill-sets needed by everyone within a carriers’ organization need to adjust a bit to accommodate, as does the way they think about the network. This caution on the carriers’ part means that some of the hype surrounding the technology has outpaced the reality, but this frequently happens in our industry.
SF: Do you think SDN/NFV technology is a significant threat to the router/switch hardware vendors?
JH: Yes and no. We’ll still need hardware to run all these virtualized functions, but it may be quite different than what we were used to seeing in the past. Different suppliers will adapt in different ways, and the market will ultimately decide based on its own criteria as to which approach is most desirable.
SF: Will SDN/NFV kill off the Carrier Ethernet market? The MPLS market?
JH: I don’t think so. Carrier Ethernet and MPLS will still be the connectivity building blocks on which value-added service will be constructed. You may see software-defined orchestration creating functions that we buy and sell today, such as E-line, E-LAN and E-Tree, and there will be more automation, which means the conventional way of delivering those functions will change. Fundamentally, however, Carrier Ethernet and MPLS technology will continue to provide the underlying connectivity services.
SF: Would you recommend an enterprise adopt a “new” technology like SD-WAN or wait until the technology matures?
JH: If we take that example of Software-defined WAN (SD-WAN), it’s one of the major opportunities for SDN and NFV, one that I think is ready for prime time. There are a lot of drivers for SD-WAN, primarily from enterprises that want to get more bandwidth from their network at lower cost across different locations. Moving to an SD-WAN approach will help with things such as automating WAN operations, boosting application performance, improving security, and reducing CAPEX and OPEX (News - Alert). Those same drivers apply to many of the other applications within the customer premises equipment space, and I think the time is ripe to start adopting them to access the cost and efficiency advantages.
SF: Aren’t there way too many standards organizations in this mix? Why so many?
JH: This is such a fundamental change that affects so many areas of networking, so many layers of the infrastructure, so many operational considerations, and more, that it takes all the stakeholders in the networking community thinking about it to get it right. So I’m not surprised so many standards groups are jumping in to tackle challenges from their perspective. There are lots of areas to be addressed. It’s messy, sure, but that’s the nature of change.
Edited by Maurice Nagle