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SDN vs NFV: Why These Are The Key Components To Modernized Networks

SDN vs NFV – while neither requires the other to work, they are key components to a modernized netwrok which compliment each other.

The growth of IoT, the implementation of 5G, a recognition to offer more VAS, plus an ever increasing number of devices and applications need to be connected to the network, forcing telecom companies to consider new ways to make the network cope. 

Demand has created a need for more flexible networks to cater to data and bandwidth requirements.

Enter SDN vs NFV.

But just as with any other industry, telcos are quick to get excited over new developments but also slow to deploy them. The SDN/NFV revolution is no different. In fact, as it stands today,  according to Telecom TV, although the use of SDN is “widespread in the enterprise and data centre domains, service providers are only beginning to adopt the technology to programmatically manage their networks.”

What is SDN in telecoms?

Software-defined networking (SDN) is an up-and-coming new technology moulding the telecom industry. 

The SDN architecture enables the behaviour of the network to be controlled centrally through software applications using APIs.

SDN has the potential to transform the telecom industry, and here’s why: for better customer value, it is vital that telecoms improve network flexibility and push down high costs. This could provide carriers with the edge needed to effectively deliver varied cloud-based services. 

SDN means greatly enhanced improvements in the manageability and flexibility of the network, including: 

  • Automated traffic management
  • Improved bandwidth engineering
  • Ability to tailor the network to customer needs “on demand”

Benefits of SDN to organisations in the telecoms industry

  • Reduced costs and do not have to invest in expensive network devices
  • Central view of network
  • Open standards
  • Increased speed and agility
  • Decreased downtime 
  • Improved security
  • Easier to utilize cloud resources
  • Ability to test various network configurations without making changes to the network

What is NFV in telecoms?

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) aims to address the problem of space and short lifespan of technologies due to innovation.

NFV unites lots of network equipment types to industry standard high volume servers, switches and storage. 

How it works is to implement network functions in software that run on industry standard server hardware, and which can be moved, or actualized in different locations in the network, without needing to install new equipment. 

Arthur D. Little reports that in data centers, the benefits of a technique that maximizes the use and reuse of hardware resources — and dramatically streamlines hardware-related operating expenses, have reduced the number of servers by up to 70%. 

Benefits of NFV to the telecom industry

  • Decreased operator capital expenditure and operating expenditure because of fewer equipment costs and a reduction in power consumption 
  • Less time-to-market for new network services 
  • New services mean increased revenue
  • Evolution of services, or scale up or down because of better flexibility
  • Less risk for trial and deployment of new services opportunities

SDN vs NFV in the telecom industry: the parts they play

SDN and NFV technologies work together to offer improved programmability, faster service and lower capital and operating expenditure for CSPs. 

NFV provides fundamental networking functions, while SDN manages network operations with higher-level responsibilities. This involves deploying and configuring network infrastructure controls, such as virtual machines, hypervisors, network controllers, load balancers, and gateways, on virtual platforms.

While neither requires the other to work, they compliment each other.

SDN is influential in separating the layers of control and forwarding in a network, increasing flexibility and enabling easier innovation and changes to the network. 

NFV reduces capital and operating expenditure and helps manage network complexity. It also helps improve scalability. SDN impacts primarily the data centre and cloud computing functions, while telecom operators are the notable NFV players.

Future forecast: SDN vs NFV in telecoms

SDN and NFV technology investments are expected to grow at a CAGR of 46% between 2016 – 2020. 

New innovations like 5G, Edge computing and IoT need new network architecture and new network slicing to meet these new challenges effectively; if a telecoms company fails to adapt to the needs of its customers, it will die.

Fierce Telecom asked a few experts about the future of SDN and NFV in telecoms. Here’s what some of the industry’s top executives predict going forward:

Vicki Lonker, Verizon

“CEOs have already begun to transform their businesses with foundational technologies like SDN, 4G, Internet of Things and will now start the planning process on how they will reinvent their operations and organizations to leverage the enormous potential promised by disruptive technologies.”

Bill Walker, CenturyLink

Most carriers will accept NFV and SDN as mainstream. What I mean by that is that I see us looking at NFV as part of our capabilities, rather than a black/white separation between legacy and NFV/SDN.

Carl Grivner, Colt Technology Services

“The adoption bell-curve of SDN/NFV technology, incorporating uCPE, will revolutionize the way CSPs interact with their customers.”


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