Two exciting features that are now possible are software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV).
Installing the device, turning it on, and letting it happen are the only steps when using Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) to configure network devices. Know how agile deployment works, its advantages and how to easily set it up on our blog post.
SDN is the use of networking protocols instead of hardware switches and routers to create a network architecture. It allows reconfiguration of a network without any need to change, or even touch, the hardware. Devices can be connected across the Internet as if they were local to one another.
What makes SDN work is the standardization of protocols such as OpenFlow. With these protocols come consistent, vendor-independent ways of orchestrating the network, regardless of the hardware and operating systems individual devices use.
NFV (and VNF)
Network function virtualization is related but distinct. SDN provides the protocols for building a network, while NFV defines the components that make up its architecture. Virtualized network functions (VNFs) are software in standard computers that take over the role of dedicated devices such as routers and switches.
The two approaches can be used separately. SDN can connect installations which are behind conventional routers. NFV can replace a local router without changing anything else. However, the two together provide a synergy which opens many new opportunities in network architecture and management.
Getting there from here presents some challenges. They aren’t impossible to overcome, but they will require time and planning. The transition won’t happen overnight.
- The process of transition. Replacing network devices with software may require hardware changes at the beginning. People know how routers work and what to expect of them. Changing the network in major ways carries some risk, and providers want to avoid service outages or more work than their service teams can keep up with.
- Vendor compatibility. This is an issue mostly on the NFV level. VNFs from different vendors need to work together smoothly, and they aren’t well standardized yet. Cable Labs’ SNAPS(SDN/NFV Application Development Platform and Stack) is helping to improve the situation. It’s open-source software built on the OpenStack cloud platform. Cable providers using SNAPS-based VNFs will work with a standard which many vendors will hopefully adhere to.
- Network management. With more options comes more responsibility. System configurations will vary as customers gain control. While many cases won’t require any intervention from the service team, those that do may present situations that are unique to their deployment.
- Rapid growth. Growth is the kind of problem businesses like to have, but they need to keep up with it. Freed from the constraints of deploying hardware network devices, a whole new virtual infrastructure can start up in minutes. The provider needs to plan the expansion of its capacity to keep up while maintaining policies so that short-term spurts don’t overwhelm it.
- Security. VNFs that run on general-purpose hardware need to be as secure as their dedicated equivalents. SDN entails sending network control data over the Internet. Secure protocols and orchestration practices can maintain the necessary security levels, but it’s important to make sure the transition doesn’t introduce any vulnerabilities. The SDN controller needs to be highly reliable; if it suffers malware or a DDoS attack, the impact will be widespread.
The key to success with SDN and NFV is to develop long-term plans and carry them out one step at a time. Proceeding at the right pace will open up many opportunities while making sure the provider can follow through and keep its customers satisfied.
Installing the device, turning it on, and letting it happen is the only steps when using Zero-Touch Provisioning (ZTP) to configure network devices. Know how agile deployment works, it advantages and how to easily set it up on our blog post.