By Enzo Cocotti, Director Fixed & Global Products at Optus Business
Telecommunications is set to be transformed over the next few years as disruptive new technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) change the way networks are built.
SDN is revolutionary because it makes the network programmable by separating the network’s brains into a new software layer, with data remaining in the hardware layer. SDN allows logically centralised software to control the behaviour of an entire network, enabling the network to be flexible and dynamic so it can change and respond in real time to customer needs.
This will enable tasks such as deploying new services, or increasing network speed or capacity, to be done more quickly and efficiently using software.
Introducing Network Functions Virtualisation
Along with SDN, telcos are also adopting a complementary technology called Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV). This continues the trend of enterprises and cloud providers moving away from using discrete, single-purpose devices to virtualised processing power, storage and other computing resources. For example, virtualisation enables a single physical server to utilise workloads more efficiently than would otherwise be possible, greatly improving flexibility and agility. It’s also highly scalable by pooling resources from any number of physical servers.
NFV applies this approach to networking by virtualising functions traditionally provided by routers, firewalls, gateways and other dedicated appliances that have traditionally hosted a wide range of user applications so that a generic virtualised server can perform a number of these tasks.
The next step change in telco services
Of course, these are hardly the first disruptive technologies to have hit the telco industry. Over the past 20 years, telcos have moved from point-to-point networks to Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Frame Relay technologies for more reliable data networks. Then they shifted to Internet Protocol (IP) networking and the likes of Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) for greater flexibility.
However, SDN and NFV fundamentally change the architecture of networks. They will accelerate the convergence between the traditional telco network and enterprise cloud, creating new efficiencies and potentially slashing capital costs for enterprises.
The flexibility that enterprises enjoy with the cloud will be expanded to their networks. For example, SDN will enable dynamic interconnects between sites or data centres, delivering bandwidth on demand or bandwidth calendaring between locations, as well as dynamically applying appropriate quality of service (QoS) to those links.
By creating an even more flexible information and communications technology platform, SDN has the potential to deliver another step change in agility and innovation for enterprises.