Software-defined networks (SDNs) have the potential to help enterprises, service providers and ultimately, end users. The technology is also a huge sweepstakes for vendors. The bets that are placed on small nuances in the technology can lead to decisions that make or break fortunes.
But the jury still is out on many of those nuances. Evolutions in IT and telecommunications don’t occur in a linear fashion. Often, winners and losers are chosen before the rules of the game are entirely clear.
That being said, news this week comes from Verizon, which said that it will work with Nokia, Cisco, Ericsson and Juniper Networks on an SDN strategy. The carrier also released its architectural plan, though the press release doesn’t have specifics.
SDNs and the network functions virtualization (NFV) concept with which they often run will become central to the operations of networks. That much is clear – but little more. Network World’s Brandon Butler, reporting on SDNs during this week’s Interop in Las Vegas, pointed to an analyst’s wise crack that during last year’s Interop, SDN stood for “Still Does Nothing.”
Right now, the analyst told Butler, the software element of SDN is more mature than the hardware side because network owners are skittish. If service providers and enterprises are reluctant to trust commodity servers – the conceptual heart of the value that SDN adds – the approach could have trouble gaining traction.
Still, there are positive signs beyond the Verizon announcement. AT&T, for instance, said that its aim is to virtualize 75 percent of its network by 2020, and RCR Wireless said that NFV and SDN will be the enabling technologies. This week, Singapore carrier StarHub said that it will use SDNs to create an “open, cloud-based” platform across its network. Cisco and Huawei are two of the vendors, according to ZDNet.
It seems that SDNs are almost inevitable. And these key questions about the technology don’t change the truth of that statement, but certainly make it less impressive: What are SDNs, precisely? How quickly will they be implemented?
The evolution of SDNs is not unlike other technologies: The excruciatingly complex standards process drones on while deals are made. The big vendors court the potential customers, sign them on and rush out press releases. The bottom line is that these announcements by Verizon and others are important, but only tell a small part of the story.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.