SDN or NFV or Both? Software-defined networking (SDN), and network functions virtualization (NFV) are complementary approaches. They each offer a new way to design deploy and manage the network and its services:
- SDN: Separates the network’s control (brains) and forwarding (muscle) planes and provides a centralized view of the distributed network for more efficient orchestration and automation of network services.
- NFV: Focuses on optimizing the network services themselves. NFV decouples the network functions, such as DNS, caching, etc., from proprietary hardware appliances, so they can run in software to accelerate service innovation and provisioning, particularly within service provider environments.
- NV: Ensures the network can integrate with and support the demands of virtualized architectures, particularly those with multi-tenancy requirements.
- White Box: Uses network devices, such as switches and routers, that as based on “generic” merchant silicon networking chipset available for anyone to buy, as opposed to proprietary silicon chips designed by and for a single networking vendor.
SDN and NFV each aim to advance a software-based approach to networking for more scalable, agile, and innovative networks that better align and support the overall IT objectives of the business. It is not surprising that some common doctrines guide the development of each. For example, they each aim:
- Move functionality to software
- Use commodity servers and switches over proprietary appliances
- Leverage application program interfaces (APIs)
- Support more efficient orchestration, virtualization, and automation of network services
SDN and NFV Are Better Together
These approaches are mutually beneficial but are not dependent on one another. You do not need one to have the other. However, the reality is SDN makes NFV and NV more compelling and vice-versa. SDN contributes network automation that enables policy-based decisions to orchestrate which network traffic goes where, while NFV focuses on the services, and NV ensures the network’s capabilities align with the virtualized environments they are supporting.
The advancement of all these technologies is the key to evolving the network to keep pace with the innovations of all the people and devices its connecting. This is illustrated through groups like the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the OpenDaylight Project, ETSI NFV, and the various open source projects they collaborate on. Recently, OPNFV, headed up by the Linux Foundation and working closely with ETSI NFV, has pressed for advancing open standards. All of these groups work together by consistently finding new ways to share open standards and to continually navigate the way for others to bring openness to their businesses or organizations.