Software-defined wide area networks (SD-WANs) and network function virtualization (NFV) are among the most talked about technologies in the networking and communications industries, and in this first of a two-part series, we will explore the benefits they bring to service providers. Part two will explain how service providers can leverage software-defined security (SD-Security).
Service providers understand that to gain market share and deal with the constant evolution of enterprise and consumer demands for new services, they are going to have to re-architect their networks. Interestingly, service providers are quickly realizing that, while initial advantages and drivers towards virtualization were reduction in Capex and Opex, the more compelling advantages today are the ability to deploy a flexible, programmable and agile network. This elastic network can rapidly and efficiently automate the instantiation of new applications and services based on real-time subscriber demand.
Enter NFV, which gives service providers an opportunity to transform their network architectures so they can evolve to meet the growing demand for innovative services and offer new use-cases that will help them remain competitive and give their subscribers services whenever and wherever they want.
Consider this — whether you’re a product manager or an operations leader at a managed service provider (MSP) or the end customer of an MSP service, you know the challenges of building and deploying a successful WAN across dozens (or hundreds) of sites. Deployment requires truck rolls to each branch office to drop off, plug in and properly configure, on average, five to seven pieces of equipment. On top of that, MSPs must deal with ongoing maintenance and equipment swap outs or additions as business needs or capacity requirements expand.
However, managed service offerings now are starting to change. Just as enterprise data centers evolved from physical servers/storage/networks to virtualized and orchestrated sets of resources, service providers are starting to leverage the latest in software-based networking products and architectures. Trends that started in the last few years, such as NFV from the European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI), have the potential to fundamentally change how MSPs create and enterprises consume managed services.
NFV, and in particular virtualized network functions (VNF), can be a primary change catalyst for managed services. Key capabilities such as service virtualization, service chaining and the ability to separate services from underlying hardware provide the ability to create a “virtual Lego set” of network and security functions that can be assembled into rich, multi-feature, yet very dynamic managed services.
For instance, let’s look at managed SD-WAN. It can be built and operated like other traditional managed network services:
- Find network hardware (SD-WAN) vendor
- Design a deployment and management process around its products
- Deploy dedicated SD-WAN appliances at each branch, along with separate security appliances or third-party cloud security services
- Deploy and manage a dedicated controller device at the head-end for each customer
- Double the resources if high availability/fail-over is required
Or it can be designed as a true cloud-like service:
- Deploy a multi-tenant SD-WAN software platform in the carrier cloud (e.g. PoP) with template service definitions and deployment processes
- Instantly provision new customers by drop-shipping low-cost white-box hardware populated with software that is auto-provisioned to pre-defined templates
- Instantly deploy a new customer using the multi-tenant SD-WAN software and management console
- Continually monitor and improve each customer’s SD-WAN service via integrated multi-tenant big-data analysis
In conclusion, while managed network services will never be an easy game, key industry innovations such as NFV can make MSPs and their enterprise customers’ businesses that much better. In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of leveraging software-defined security along with NFV technologies. Stay tuned.