Software-defined networks are accelerating the transition from hot prospect to established star, and by the end of last year, SDN deployments by service providers was nearly universal.
Research firm IHS Markit’s latest “Carrier SDN Strategies Service Provider Survey” found that all of the the 23 service providers surveyed plan to deploy SDN. In total, 78 percent had done so by the end of last year, another 9 percent will deploy SDN this year, and 4 percent in 2020 or later. The remaining 9 percent will deploy, but did not say when.
The survey reinforces the success of the technology. IHS Markit has conducted six of its annual surveys, each showing an increased number of deployments.
Seventy-eight percent of respondents in the latest survey cited SD-WAN as a key deployment goal in their efforts to generate revenue. It was followed by 48 percent who aim to use network slicing for IoT to make money. The service providers also are looking to SDN to create efficiencies. Automation and cutting capex and opex are the leading drivers.
By the end of this year, 74 percent of the service providers said they will use SDN to deliver new services, while 65 percent will use it in operations and management operations.
IHS Markit analyst Michael Howard said that the most popular SDN utilizations are managed delivery of virtualized network functions such as firewalls, IDS/IPS, WAN optimization control, VPNs, and SD-WAN. “Operators are using SDN to control their metro networks, data center interconnection, router and optical networks, mobile backhaul, broadband access, among others – operators indicate that they plan to use SDN in nearly every network domain,” he wrote.
Howard told SDxCentral that c-suite buy-in came early for most service providers. The bigger issue was the evolution of the technology itself. “Architectures had to be invented, use cases explored, NFV was added (brand new idea at end of 2012), and the ultimate goals of service agility and quicker time to revenue via automation had to be translated into new software that controls programmable networks,” he wrote.
The sense is that Howard felt that the ecosystem had – and still has – a lot to figure out on the fly. “This is a huge undertaking,” he wrote. “And as operators learned each year as early projects approached commercial deployment, there is a lot of change required in daily operations in nearly every department of the operator from customer relations and services design to marketing/sales and of course network operations. As all these operational changes are being figured out and the architecture/design/deployment/operation of an automated network are being figured out, there is no base of knowledgeable people to hire.”
Indeed, recruiting and developing expertise is a challenge. Howard wrote that the servers are controlled by the IT departments, not a traditional area of expertise for networking personnel. “Over the past years of SDN and NFV, the few engineers with software and network expertise were gobbled up long ago, and are yet highly prized,” he wrote. “This is not lost on engineers, many of which are cross training themselves. A common technique for operators is to put together multi-departmental development teams comprising network and IT engineers to encourage cross-pollination of expertise and skills.”