Software-defined networking (SDN) holds a lot of potential. By decoupling the data plane from the control plane, operators gain flexibility on various fronts – in terms of the hardware they choose, the software to go with it and the way their network operates. One of the biggest advantages of SDN is that it opens up the hardware market to increased competition. Currently, large OEMs charge premium prices for their equipment, driving propriety standards that lock customers into purchasing all their hardware from one vendor.
But with the increase in bare metal equipment that will come with SDN, operators no longer need to be locked in and will be able to pick and choose equipment from different vendors. It will result in OEMs to compete against each other on a variety of different features and differentiating points, including price, which will inevitably drive down equipment costs. Many look at this as one of the chief benefits of SDN. Demand for more bandwidth is rising exponentially and carriers are struggling to keep up, while keeping costs down. Reduced equipment costs due to increased programmability in the network can only help.
However, an important point to note is that equipment costs are unlikely to go down enough to make a significant dent in operators’ balance sheets. What they really need is a way to drive increased revenue. While the focus on reducing costs is good, those who are looking at SDN to aid their balance sheet need to be focus more on the increased service agility that SDN provides rather than commoditization.
By decoupling hardware from software, carriers are freed from the OEM product cycle churn. In a traditional network, if you wanted to roll out a new feature or service, you would first need to go talk to your OEM vendor, who would in turn have discussions with its business channels, put your request on the roadmap, and then introduce it to the market. There holds two problems. First, the new feature or service is finally supported on the product long after the initial request was made, making it difficult for carriers to respond to immediate market needs. Second, it provides that feature or service to not only that single customer which made the initial request, but also to other customers, who are likely competitors.
But with SDN, new features and services can be introduced in software – quickly, easily and selectively. Carriers can test a new feature in a key market to see how their customers respond. It can then be rolled out more broadly if it’s a hit, driving new revenue streams and even bringing in new customers in a very short duration.
Per Infonetics “2014 SDN and NFV (Network Function Virtualization) Service Provider Research” – the 2 primary factors driving Service providers to SDN/NFV are Service Agility and the global view of network across multiple vendors. This increased service agility allows carriers to not only differentiate themselves, but also increase their revenue per end user and respond to market needs quickly. This is a much more effective way for carriers to accommodate the costs of increasing need for bandwidth than decreasing equipment costs. SDN has many benefits and by focusing on the ways it increases revenue, rather than just the ways that it cuts costs, it becomes an easier decision to begin implementing it.