You don't need a crystal ball to see that service providers' future includes the automation of their networks and services, and SDN, along with NFV, is playing a role.
During last Thursday's Telco Transformation radio show, IHS Markit's Michael Howard, senior research director of carrier networks, emphasized the roles that SDN and NFV were playing as carriers transformed their organizations to be more agile. (See IHS Markit: Service Providers' SDN Ambitions and Plans and TT Radio Show: Service Providers' SDN Ambitions & Plans.) Howard cited Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Facebook and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) as prime examples of being able to provide services on demand.
"What is the biggest underpinning of how do you achieve that on-demand capability? You have to automate," Howard said. "You have to automate everything. You have to take people out of the process. The higher trend is that this carrier transformation is going on. Competition is the driver, and competition of the telcos with the big mega-scale cloud providers is a big driver as well. SDN and NFV are tools -- are the basic technologies -- that help achieve this."
Carriers' transformations are more than network operations, Howard said. Transformations also include how they'll offer their services to their customers in a more agile way. While cost savings were touted as the big driver during the early days of SDN, the number one driver today is agility, Howard said.
"Agility is the ability to define new services, put them up quickly, trial them with a small subset of customers, and see if they work," Howard said. "If they work, expand the customer set. If they don't work, modify them and try them again with a small customer set. All of that can be done so quickly if you don't have hardware underpinning everything."
The ability to quickly change -- to have more flexibility -- leads to faster deployments of services that in turn increase revenues for service providers.
"The second (SDN) driver is to save operational costs by automation," said Howard. "That second driver of automation really boils down to having a view of your whole network and having a view of your network that is independent of a specific vendor's equipment."
Being able to look at a metro network, or a mobile backhaul network, typically involves multiple types of equipment and multiple vendors' equipment.
"What SDN brings is the capability to, essentially, provision equipment independent of which manufacturer owns it," Howard said.
In the fifth edition of IHS Markit's "Carrier SDN Strategies" service provider survey, the top three obstacles to deploying SDN remained the same as last year: OSS/BSS integration, integrating SDN into current networks, and immature technologies and products.
"How do you bring SDN control to an existing network where that concept is not even part of it? OSS is one of the biggest pieces there that typically defines services, controls service and sets up subscriber access. Who can do what where, and defines SLAs," Howard said. "The big barrier is, how do we now add the SDN, the abstracting of the control plane being software defined, how do you add that to a network? It's not easy."
Howard said the other big barrier was that carrier-grade software wasn't available yet, and what's out there now wasn't standard.
"We're still in the midst of creating all the software that's needed and really learning about it as we go along," Howard said. "That barrier is melting each year somewhat, but the glue that allows operators to deploy now is really outsourcing services; a lot of help from your friends."
— Mike Robuck, Editor, Telco Transformation