The technology industry loves two things above all else- three letter acronyms and a product shoot-out, that virtual cage match for technology supremacy. In the world of networking, two new methodologies, Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), are vying for attention, and some mistakenly assume that it is one versus the other. In reality, they have more in common and even work together. What I’ll try to do here is explain what these two do and how they complement each other. If you want the long and detailed version, you can find it here.
Both technologies, SDN and TFV promise to take the rigid, expensive and proprietary aspects of today’s networks away, allowing datacenters to be more agile and flexible when responding to changes in the business world. The encumbants are companies like Cisco, Juniper, Huawei and Alcatel-Lucent. As IT is pressured by the organization to be more responsive to market changes or competitors that are utilizing cloud and big data technology to make faster or more profitable decisions, SDN and NFV can help knock down barriers. Companies like Big Switch Networks, Cisco, HP, IBM, Dell, Juniper and VMware offer SDN controllers. NFV’s principal proponents are carriers like AT&T, BT Group, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia,Telefónica and Verizon. By virtualizing the network with either NFV or SDN, companies can take advantage of rapidly changing dynamics instead of falling behind.
SDN and NFV may result in similar benefits, but are different in ways. First of all, think of SDN as the data center darling where service providers rally around NFV. I have provided a quick contrasts and comparisons below.
In the past, storage was virtualized with SAN and NAS technology, pooling and virtualizing data storage for easier access and management. Then servers were virtualized, making compute more flexible and agile. Both of these changes significantly improved the bottom line and drove more IT efficiency.
However, networking has not really experienced a real burst of innovation and virtualization – until today. Driven by the demand for cloud solutions, the traditional methods of networking are finally being challenged. Vendors need to react and deliver products that match today’s rapidly changing business needs, or risk losing out as these disruptive technologies change the landscape of networking.
In a world that has seen an orderly transition from each generation of networking technology, virtualizing the network is the first true wild card thrown into the process in years. How businesses (and vendors) embrace these technology changes will speak volumes about their ability to embrace change and internalize new ideas that drive competitiveness.
This is just a fly-over, but we take an in-depth look at both of these technologies here. From here, hopefully you’ll be able to understand what SDN and NFV are and how they impact the network. Most importantly, you’ll be able to see that those who pit these two technologies against each other aren’t really making a viable comparison, as they operate in two different worlds.
John Fruehe contributed to this article.