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Service Provider SDN: where will it hit first?

Infonetics' Michael Howard and his colleagues took their trusty clipboards and interviewed operators at the sharp end to find out. Surprise! The real picture is different from that conveyed via the world's telecoms conferences.

"I've been at most of the major SDN conferences as well as other conferences with SDN content over the past two years and more." says Howard, co-founder and principal analyst at Infonetics. "We hear a lot about first applications."

From that, he says, you'd form an impression that most in the industry believe that intra-data centre, inter-data centre and cloud services are the first places service providers will focus their investigations, investments, and deployments.

And you'd only be partly right. Once you probe deeper it becomes clear that telcos are very keen to apply SDN to other areas.

"The surprise to me was that CDNs and Operations & Management are in the early chosen investment areas by operators." says Howard. "CDNs are a "natural" to move some caching and distributed caching intelligence to SDN control, especially out closer to the video users.

"The less sexy sounding and rather mundane, even arcane, operations and management category is actually the generic use case that motivates SDN and NFV."

Operators are looking for automation; for any tools that can reduce human time and human error in their processes, and respond much more quickly to network traffic changes and dangers.

The findings form part of Infonetics' 'SDN and NFV Strategies: Global Service Provider Survey' and involved a world-wide group of operators collectively responsible for over half of the global capital spend.

“For the most part, carriers are starting small with their SDN and NFV deployments, focusing on only parts of their network, what we call ‘contained domains,’ to ensure they can get the technology to work as intended,” explains Howard.

What sort of operators seem most drawn to the technologies?

"The larger the operator, the higher the motivation to find ways to both reduce operations expense and find quicker ways to new revenue," he says. "However, there are some smaller, much more nimble specialist operators that are moving quickly to deploy, since their networks typically have fewer vendors and types of equipment involved."

“So overall, the momentum for more widespread use of SDN and NFV is strong, as evidenced by the vast majority of operators participating in our study who plan to deploy the technologies in key parts of their networks, from the core to aggregation to customer access. Even so, we believe it’ll be many years before we see bigger parts or a whole network controlled by SDNs.”

Other key findings include:

- Virtually all major operators are either evaluating SDNs now or plan to do so within the next 3 years

- SDN and NFV evaluation and deployments are being driven by carriers’ desire for service agility resulting in quicker time to revenue and operational efficiency

- The top 5 network domains named by operators when asked where they plan to deploy SDNs and NFV by 2014: Within data centers, between data centers, operations and management, content delivery networks (CDNs), and cloud services

- 86 per cent of operators are confident they will deploy SDN and NFV technology in their optical transport networks as well at some point, once standards are finalized

- Study participants rated CDNs, IP multimedia subsystems (IMS), and virtual routers/security gateways as the top applications for NFV

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