Software Defined Networking: exploring the benefits for communications service providers
It’s not surprising that the buzz about software-defined network has continued to gain momentum, because SDN-based offerings are maturing to meet the demands of mainstream communications service providers (CSPs). The interest in SDN is only going to continue to grow, because it is a completely new approach to network design, deployment and management.
In fact, says Accenture’s Amol Phadke, estimates indicate that the SDN market will be worth US$8 billion by 2018. The reason for this projected growth is simple: SDN-controlled cloud computing environments will help boost business agility by significantly increasing networks’ speed and efficiency, allowing them to be easily reconfigured. SDN is an enabler for new innovative perishable services, such as on demand networks, creating a tight coupling between the top-line benefits and efficiencies from a total cost of ownership (TCO) perspective.
Although SDN means many things to many people, the foundation of SDN is enabling the network to be programmable and flexible, making it possible for a network administrator to centrally control the network from an operations’ headquarters, rather than managing individual switches.
Improving the user experience, boosting business agility are key drivers
For CSPs, transitioning to SDN raises questions about the best ways to deploy, manage, and invest in it. At the same time, SDN’s potential to improve the user experience makes it an inevitable “next step” in networks. With the rise of customer demand for digital services, lightning-quick speed and seamless performance are essential. This, in particular, is driving the excitement for SDN, because it can give providers more flexible, programmable control of network traffic, helping to ensure a consistently smooth experience for end-users.
Flexible network management for improved customer experience
In some parts of the world, where there’s already keen interest in products and services that are differentiated based on dynamic bandwidth, some multinational companies have deployed versions of SDN.
The prospects of a programmable network are tantalizing, indeed. A programmable network can automatically and dynamically address changing requirements quickly. It can significantly improve the network manageability, flexibility and efficiency. SDN can also help CSPs reduce time-to-market for new services, accelerate provisioning, and deliver faster and more efficient billing, which ultimately can lead to faster revenue recognition.
Final thoughts and next steps
With the market’s ever-expanding hunger for IP, the advancement of enabling technologies and the fast expansion of digital services offered by multiple players, CSPs should take actions to sustain their position at the “digital dining table” by gaining experience with SDN. To do so, they should:
Identify their target outcome. Whether it is managing spikes in capacity, or ongoing monitoring and management of the end-user network, CSPs implementing SDN should focus on their target outcome to determine where to invest.
Recognize that SDN means considering new business models. SDN’s promise of delivering a significant change in network management means that CSPs must be prepared for equally momentous changes in their business models. For instance, CSPs should create a strong governance structure to manage software-driven network architecture changes.
Assess the network infrastructure. To successfully leverage SDN, CSPs should ensure that their underlying network infrastructure is SDN capable so that when a need arises, they can respond appropriately and rapidly.
Plan carefully. As with any new technology, providers should follow a prudent new technology introduction methodology, developing a phased execution plan with a focus on informed vendor management driven by a sound business case.
Confirm a disciplined approach to IT. Because SDN is all about software, implementing SDN will require disciplined IT approaches and field-tested methodologies.
CSPs who follow these “rules of the road” will be better positioned to implement SDN and ultimately, provide their customers with faster, more tailored services than ever before. It’s an evolution that both providers and their customers will surely embrace.
The author of this blog is Amol Phadke, a managing director and the global lead for Accenture’s network virtualisation and innovation practice for Accenture’s Communications, Media & Technology operating group. For more information visit: www.accenture.com
 SDN Momentum Builds in Datacenter and Enterprise Networks, by Brad Casemore and Rohit Mehra, IDC, August 2014.