How service providers can unlock the true value of SDN for broadband
As a technology which can deliver automated provisioning, network virtualisation, and network programmability to data center and enterprise networks, Software Defined Networking (SDN) has grown to be viewed as a key driver for innovation and changes in networking.
The technology provides 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 and provide network resource control to users and applications, radically disrupting the vendor and carrier landscape.
Indeed, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC), the global market for Enterprise and Cloud Service Provider segments enabled by SDN will grow from $960 million in 2014 to more than $8 billion by 2018.
But despite the growing influence of SDN, its use has not been deployed in the broadband network nor has how the new technologies will enable new revenue-generating services been clarified – until now.
The emergence of viable SDN solutions comes at a time when operators face many business opportunities, such as smart devices, video content and cloud services – all of which are generating double-digit growth in network traffic.
Of course, these opportunities also bring challenges; operators must bear the cost and risk of maintaining and upgrading the network to deal with these new services – but with little ability to monetise this new network traffic. Add to this declining revenue-per-user, market saturation and a volume-based subscriber acquisition model, as well as intense competition from over-the-top services, and operators are inevitably concluding that the only way to provide commercially-viable connectivity for all users is through innovative new services.
The urgency related to this is seen in the explosion of service provider activity around SDN applications, with many major global carriers already announcing SDN initiatives. However, the dynamic nature of SDN creates both an opportunity and a threat to existing static-based service models of the carriers.
Evolving SDN to the Access Network
From its genesis in data center compute/storage/network management, SDN is enabling cloud service delivery in the Metro and Enterprise sector of the market. However, new business opportunities enabled by SDN and complementary technologies, like cloud services and NFV, may be significantly larger in the distributed Enterprise, Small Business, Home-worker, Public Wi-Fi and Residential markets.
Despite it being early days for SDN, we are undoubtedly out of the hype phase, with key questions now being asked about SDN’s implementation and commercialisation: 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 – ultimately enhancing services into the business and home premises.
Already instrumental in creating successful deployment in large parts of the network, the Broadband Forum has now decided to turn its attention to the new opportunities SDN, NFV and cloud services are creating to provide new implementation standards and guidance, accelerating the adoption and realisation of SDN and NFV’s potential for business, mobile and residentially-located users.
A smooth transition
To ensure a smooth migration to the virtually-enhanced and dynamically-managed network, the industry must have a well thought out transition plan, agreed global management platform and an evolved architecture. In fact any strategy that depends on costly wholesale replacement of infrastructure seems untenable.
Consequently, the Broadband Forum’s work in this area focuses on introducing SDN, new data models and application programming interfaces (APIs) in the access market. This approach provides operators the opportunity to incrementally introduce SDN techniques on a separated data plane with dynamically centralised 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 work is geared towards an enhanced focus on the application of SDN into the Multi-Service Broadband Network (MSBN), and addresses software-defined control in network elements across the access and aggregation networks. As the work progresses, additional areas of focus will be announced.
Embracing the possibilities
The potential to ease pressure on fixed costs whilst also dynamically developing new revenue streams shows why SDN is so attractive to operators but business conditions remain challenging on all fronts, particularly in regards to regulatory issues and 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.
With our Broadband 20/20 vision, we aim to unlock the true potential value of SDN and accompanying technologies for the benefit of all stakeholders.
The author of this blog is Robin Mersh, CEO of Broadband Forum.
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