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SDN and NFV: Show me the business benefits

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Believe it not, software-defined networking (SDN) is not about network gymnastics alone. We hear so much about the amazing things SDN can do in the network—flexibility, automation, virtualization, orchestration. But we don't hear enough about how SDN will meet business goals.

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As with any new, groundbreaking technology, it's fun to focus on the wow factor. But it's crucial to ask the hard questions about these new features: Do they result in a capital savings? Do they bring about real operational efficiency? Could they potentially earn us revenue?

Because there is so little SDN in production right now, there are not enough answers. As a result, network engineers who are facing an immediate need for upgrade must consider investing in legacy equipment that could eventually lend itself to a next-generation network migration. They'll continue to do this until they can find clearer answers to what SDN can do for them.

In this issue of Network Evolution, SearchNetworking editor Chuck Moozakis talks to engineers about how they are navigating the path to network upgrade keeping in mind the eventual implementation of SDN. In the story, Current Analysis analyst Mike Fratto tells us, "There is a lot of hype around SDN, which is good if your job is to follow all that stuff. But if you are designing networks, not so much." Fratto and a host of others warn engineers that they must treat legacy networks as if they'll still be around for a while. Meanwhile, they've got to keep an eye on emerging SDN standards and applications, and begin to implement the technology for isolated purposes.

The good news is that in the service provider network, where operators are already moving ahead with SDN and network features virtualization (NFV) deployments, engineers are finding answers to how the technology will provide measurable results. While NFV was at first touted as a road to capital investment savings, now operators are finding that it will prove a clearer path to operational savings and potentially even to revenue generation. SDN and NFV both enable automated service chaining, or the dynamic provisioning of network services that support applications. Whereas network operators once had to manually build firewalls and load balancers to support fluid applications, they can now provision them dynamically. This will eventually allow service providers to charge for specialized network services that will no longer be difficult to deploy.

"While there are still challenges in using NFV to impact service velocity in a significant way," writes analyst Tom Nolle in his feature, "the technology can already enable a new range of service features that will be used to produce revenue. NFV will allow operators to offer context-aware network services, or the ability to ensure varying levels of service and performance according to application, user or location."

More carrier solutions will continue to emerge as operators further deploy these technologies. And enterprise solutions will also begin to unfold as large firms deploy SDN in their data center. Smaller enterprises and cloud providers will look to these larger players to determine how to proceed.

We'll be here to tell the story as it unfolds.

This was first published in February 2014

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