Unlocking the True Potential of SDN for Broadband

Robin Mersh, CEO, Broadband Forum
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Robin Mersh, CEO, Broadband Forum

SDN (Software Defined Networking) is still in the early adop­tion phase and it continues to gain ground from its origins in datacenter networking having the potential to transform carrier networks and IT, particularly in the broader enterprise and cloud service provider markets. According to IDC (Inter­national Data Corporation), the global market for enterprise and cloud service provider segments enabled by SDN will grow from $960 million in 2014 to over $8 billion by 2018. Its ability to deliver automated provisioning, network virtualization, and network programmability to datacenter and enterprise networks, has positioned SDN as a key driver for inno­vation and changes in net­working. Originally instigated by the need to optimize carrier network­ing, NFV (Network Function Virtualiza­tion) is emerging as a driver of new rev­enue and new markets with SDN as a critical and necessary compo­nent. More simply, SDN is a framework for the automatic and dynamic management of multiple network elements with the potential to increase op­erator agility, accelerate time to revenue, lower costs, provide network resource control to us­ers and applications, radically disrupting the vendor and carrier landscape.

Why now?

The emergence of viable SDN solutions comes at a time when operators face many business challenges-smart devices, video content, and cloud services are all generating double-digit growth in network traffic. Operators, however, must bear the costs and risks of maintaining and upgrading the network but with little ability to monetize this new network traffic. Declining revenue per user, market saturation, and a volume-based subscriber acquisition model combined with intense competition from over-the-top services are all leading operators to the inescapable conclusion that in order to provide commercially viable connectivity for all users, the future lies in innovative new services. The urgency is evident by the fact that the industry has witnessed an explosion of service provider activity around SDN applications with many major global carriers already having announced SDN initiatives. However, the dynamic nature of SDN creates both an opportunity and a threat to existing static-based service models of the carriers.

SDN evolution to the Access Network

From its genesis in data­center compute/storage/ network management SDN is enabling cloud service delivery in the metro and Enterprise sector of the market. How­ever the opportunity for new business opportunities enabled by cloud services, NFV and SDN in the distrib­uted Enterprise, small business, home-worker, public Wi-Fi and residen­tial markets may be significantly larger. Despite it being early days for SDN, we’re out of the hype phase and now key questions are being asked about SDN’s implementation and com­mercialization. How will SDN trans­form the way networks are built? How will SDN transform the rela­tionship and points of responsibil­ity between service providers and Enterprise IT? How will SDN transform the way networks are operated? How will IT embrace and manage applications that have potential to consume net­work resources? And, how will SDN transform service creation and delivery?

SDN provides a highly responsive way to facilitate the agile delivery of bandwidth. In addition, bringing gateway functionality into the network will greatly reduce the IT and consumer maintenance issues and will ultimately enhance services into the business and home premises. The Broadband Forum has been instrumental in creating successful deployment in large parts of the network and its role now is to provide new implementation standards, and guidance to accelerate the adoption and realization of SDN and NFV’s potential for business, mobile and residentially located users.

A smooth transition

The industry must have a well thought out transition plan, agreed global management platform and an evolved architecture to ensure a smooth migration to the virtually enhanced and dynamically managed network. In fact any strategy that depends on costly wholesale replacement of infrastructure seems untenable. The Broadband Forum’s work in this area focuses on introducing SDN, new data models and application programming interfaces (APIs) in the access market. The approach provides operators the opportunity to incrementally introduce SDN techniques of a separated data plane with dynamically centralized control and new degrees of programmability, while protecting existing investments and manage the reality of hybrid implementations of existing and new functionality for many years to come. These techniques can improve management efficiency, enhance service flexibility, and provide numerous other benefits associated with SDN.

The scope of this work area will produce frameworks, requirements and interfaces that leverage SDN. In all respects the work area coordinates closely with other Forum activities to ensure consistent architecture, terminology and vision. The Broadband Forum will provide full details of its vision and specific enabling work later in 2015.

Embracing the possibilities

The potential to ease pressure on fixed costs whilst also dynamically developing new revenue streams shows the attractiveness to operators of SDN, but business conditions remain challenging on all fronts including both regulatory issues and in standards development. Despite this, operators competing for relevance within the digital economy must embrace this disruptive technology and master the shift to SDN; otherwise they face the possibility of being left behind in today’s digital world. The Broadband Forum’s role is to help unlock the true potential value of SDN and accompanying technologies for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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