Software is shaping up to be the biggest disrupter to the networking world in decades. The theory behind network functions virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) is that software running on white box servers and VMs will replace much of the legacy hardware that comprises traditional networks. Software will take over everything from routing and bandwidth allocation to network management and service deployment.
This virtualization of the network is essential to keep up with the demands of web-scale networking, driven by applications, services and the cloud. Using software to perform tasks traditionally handled by legacy hardware vendors does more than disrupt the networking supply chain though. It adds intelligence and autonomy to the network, creating what will eventually shape up to be a self-aware network that scales, allocates resources and determines traffic routing based on its own complex system of monitoring and big data analytics.
The creation of a smart, autonomous network is no pipe dream. According to research from IHS (News - Alert) Markit, the global market for NFV hardware, software and services will reach $11.6 billion by 2019, with software comprising more than 80 percent of revenues. MarketsandMarkets puts the total SDN and NFV market at $45.13 billion in 2020, driven by the demands of mobility, the cloud and increasingly complex network traffic patterns.
Network virtualization and the advent of a smarter network are also becoming extremely important to technology decision makers, according to research from optical networking gurus Ciena. The company surveyed 165 senior decision makers and found that 58 percent believe virtualization is very important or important. Those queried are embracing the smart network due to ease of delivering new services, scalability, cost savings and automation of a variety of processes. And those decision makers are putting their money where their mouths are, with 22 percent already in the process of virtualizing their networks, 14 percent planning to do so within the next year, and an additional 8 percent planning to make the change within the next two years.
Clearly, NFV and SDN are shaking up the networking sector in a major way. Disrupting just about every part of networking architecture, virtualization is being embraced to keep pace with the demands of web-scale networking traffic. The result is the creation of intelligent, self-aware networks capable of making routing and management decisions in real time based on deep data analytics. What the next step for networking will be after virtualization remains to be seen, but perhaps the networks themselves will be the ones to determine that.
Edited by Alicia Young