As service providers increasingly push toward software-defined networking, there is an industry-wide expectation for better and more efficient networks. Service providers are feeling the need to make inroads in things like NFV, SDN and cloud orchestration, yet progression in these areas can be impeded by legacy networking that lacks the elasticity to accommodate future-focused changes.
"Progression in SDN can be impeded by legacy networking that lacks the elasticity to accommodate future-focused changes."
This lack of network agility on the part of carriers is what holds these operations back from experiencing the full benefits of SDN. The problem is that many carriers out there are burdened by departmental siloing that's a product of outmoded networking. These silos threaten to stifle progress by making inter-departmental collaboration a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Without such collaboration, agile implementation of network-boosting technologies like SDN can become out of the question.
The key to overcoming silos and successfully deploying a virtualized compute environment is to do it in a strategic way that allows for acclimation to the new technology over time. What such a strategy can yield is an optimally functional multigenerational infrastructure - one in which legacy components are maintained seamlessly alongside new developments. This bit-by-bit approach to network development paves the road for networks that aren't only evolved, but highly sustainable. Recently, Verizon announced a comprehensive strategy for for transforming its network with SDN. A look at how this is happening - and the strategy behind it - provides a workable model for other carriers looking to make similar forward strides.
Learning from Verizon's SDN adoption
Before deciding to pursue SDN, Verizon was facing an issue. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, the major telecom realized that its network hardware solutions had become largely outmoded. With the push among other carriers - including AT&T - toward SDN solutions, Verizon Communications realized its legacy networking methods would no longer cut it in the increasingly software-centered carrier realm.
For the SDN market as a whole, big carrier adoption of SDN is leading to a huge boom in the sector. According to the WSJ, the SDN market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2019 - a huge leap from its $290 million 2014 figure. As Verizon head of enterprise network platforms and managed services Shawn Hakl put it, "SDN is similar to the arrive (sic) of Linux and virtualization in the data center 10 years go. This is virtualization of the network."
But the move toward SDN is easier said than done, particularly when carriers have legacy elements in silo-heavy networks to contend with. For Verizon, surmounting these challenges boiled down to rolling out an SDN deployment strategy that would ensure a slow, steady and robust transition. Here are some of the key steps Verizon took to guarantee that its move to a more software-centered network was a productive one unencumbered by network problems:
"If you think about the wireline side, we may have a number of platforms that are end of life and that's a great opportunity to go in, and instead of putting in a brand new piece of hardware, we're taking a hard look if we can migrate that over to software," Higgins told FierceWireless.
"The expectation is that we will develop internal goals that we're going to work through as we go through all those network functions via an internal plan," Higgins said. "Once we have that internal plan validated within Verizon, we'll be in a position to go public with our aspirations to try to make this migration."
Rolling out a strategy with DevOps
The deployment of SDN offers myriad benefits for carriers that choose to pursue it. In the case of Verizon, for instance, its shift to SDN won't only streamline network operations and improve customer self-service functions, but will also help Verizon more seamlessly roll out Internet of Things technology. As Verizon's Higgins told FierceWireless, the deployment of SDN will pave the way for the independent network scaling required to successfully regulate the data loads of IoT tech like smart appliances and street lamps.
"Verizon is illustrative of the strategic steps a carrier must take in the process of SDN adoption."
But these benefits can only happen in a networking environment that's prepared to successfully take on SDN. For carriers looking to implement SDN, the example of Verizon is illustrative of the strategic steps a carrier must take in the process of adoption. Fortunately, there is an internal operations methodology that can play an instrumental role in this strategy: DevOps.
As the need among carriers to deploy SDN and NFV mounts, the question arises of how to roll out this long-term transition in a way that promises multi-generational, heterogeneous network harmony and that takes into account the realities of legacy infrastructure, existing personnel skills and the complexity of the large consortium of internal departments, external contractors and integral vendors in delivering service architectures to market. This is challenge that QualiSystems CloudShell - a cloud management platform - is helping carriers tackle today. As a valuable infrastructure as a service tool for carriers, CloudShell is built to enable a path to DevOps by handling multiple generations of network elements. CloudShell does this by:
The takeaway: Widespread moves among carriers toward SDN are going a long way toward improving network agility and readying carriers for future-focused projects, including the rollout of IoT tech. But legacy networking can impede SDN deployments if a carefully considered rollout strategy is not in place. Verizon's currently in-development strategy provides a good example of what carriers must do to ease the migration. As far as implementing a successful strategy goes, a platform like CloudShell provides carriers with a production-like, network-friendly IaaS as a building block to practice DevOps and match their network's agility with agile operations.